Lecture Fifteen: Deleuze and the Eternal Return


                  Last week, we looked at the metaphysical structure of the third synthesis of time. Today, I want to look at how this synthesis is related to two other topics by Deleuze: the structure of drama, and the eternal return. Deleuze takes up Rosenberg’s suggestion in ‘Character Change and Drama’ that we can distinguish between two forms of organisation of a character. What Rosenberg calls ‘identity’, which derives from law, and what he calls ‘personality’, which is a unifying principle that ‘can only be felt’ (Rosenberg, 135). This leads to a distinction between classical drama, which focuses on the acts of the characters, and (some) modern drama, which instead relies on a substratum to action which makes it possible. In this regard, Hamlet is iconic, as it is a drama where, at least prior to Hamlet’s voyage to England, the time of the play is defined by the absence of action (Hamlet’s hesitation). We can compare this approach to drama to the three syntheses in the following manner: in the case of classical drama and active synthesis, time is simply the manner in which a deeper structure is played out – movement for Plato, and the law governing action for classical drama. Hamlet, and as we shall see, Zarathustra, follow a different structure, where action takes time to unfold. In this case, action is ontologically, and theatrically secondary to the structure of temporality itself. I therefore want to structure today’s lecture as follows. First, I want to talk about how Rosenberg presents the different kinds of drama. Second, I want to show how we can apply this account of drama to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and arrive at the first doctrine of the Eternal Return present in Difference and Repetition. Finally, I want to talk a little about the esoteric doctrine of the Eternal Return, and its relationship to intensive difference.

Rosenberg on Drama

How does Rosenberg conceive of drama? Well, at the beginning of last term, we talked a little about the relationship between Hegel and Kierkegaard on drama. What was central to Hegel’s understanding of a play such as Antigone was the nature of the ethical. Here, the conflict occured between the rights of the family, represented by Antigone’s desire to bury her brother, Polyneices, and the rights of the state, represented by King Creon’s desire to punish Polyneices as a traitor. While both characters are in fact also governed by the principle of the other (Antigone is the daughter of a king, and Creon is a father and husband), they choose to act solely according to one determining principle. Difference is thus turned into opposition, and the dissolution of this one-sidedness can only be achieved by the tragic death of Antigone, and Creon’s loss of his wife and son. In the case of dramas such as this, Rosenberg notes that what is being offered is something like a legal conception of the individual. When we look at the law, Rosenberg notes,

[T]he concepts of morality or social law, applying exclusively to human beings and ignoring possible analogies with other living creatures, tend to define the individual not as an entity enduring in time but by what he has done in particular instances. A given sequence of acts provokes a judgement, and this judgement is an inseparable part of the recognition of the individual. (Rosenberg, 136)

Much as we found with Hume, therefore, Rosenberg provides a conception of drama, which he is implicitly critical of, where the rational, human aspects of personality are played up to the expense of recognising that man is also a biological and psychological entity. Now when we look at the legal conception of the person, it isn’t the case that the unity of the individual can be given in terms of their acts themselves. Rather, when someone comes before a judge, what the judge sees is not a unity governed by personality, but rather a series of acts which are unified by the last act’s relationship to the law. So, as Rosenberg notes, the actual acts of a murderer are in large part no different from the acts of anyone else, and are only made criminal by the fact that they precede the murder itself: ‘entering an automobile, stepping on the gas, obeying the traffic lights.’ (138) In this sense, when we look at a criminal act, it is the law that provides a framework for the analysis of action, and which imposes a structure of artifice that unifies the conduct of the perpetrator. In the case of the law, Rosenberg elicits two reasons for supporting the artificiality of this mode of analysis. First, there is the fact that in determining the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator of a crime, the judge explicitly sets to one side the personality of the individual in order to base their judgement purely on the identity of the actions. Second, we can note that if it is suddenly discovered that the alleged perpetrator did not commit the crime, then the entire identity of them before the law disintegrates. The actions of ‘stepping on the gas’ and ‘obeying the traffic lights’ now take on an entirely innocent aspect. In this sense, the law operates according to an active synthesis, as it provides the active principle uniting indifferent determinations.

Now, obviously in the case of the law, the problem is of determining whether the structures of the law apply to the actions or not (whether the person is guilty or innocent). In the case of ‘old drama,’ we do not have the difficulty of determining whether acts properly accord with the structure of the law. Rather, characters in ‘old drama’ are constituted to be in accordance with their fate from the outset:

The dramatists definition of the character was not an arbitrary superimposition that exchanged the emotional, intellectual, and mechanical characteristics of a biological and social organism for some one deed that concerned the court; it constituted instead the entire reality of a character, avoiding the ruinous abstraction of the law by determining in advance that his emotions, his thoughts and his gestures should correspond with and earn in every respect the fate prepared for him. (Rosenberg, 139)

In this sense, therefore, we can see Rosenberg’s conception of classical drama as being something like the Leibnizian notion of time that we looked at last week. Here, the phenomenal manifestations of characters in classical drama are merely manifestations of an underlying law, or an underlying judgement: the fate of the character. Hence, ‘psychology can establish the plausibility of Macbeth’s or Lear’s behaviour, but for the sufficiency of his motivation, we must not refer to a possible Macbeth or Lear “in real life” but to the laws of the Shakespearean universe.’ (140)

How does this differ with Hamlet? Deleuze notes that Hamlet’s claim that ‘time is out of joint’ can be read as an essentially philosophical claim, and we looked at what this claim might entail last week. Here we can see that Hamlet was not a purely arbitrary choice on the part of Deleuze. In fact, we can see in the structure of the play itself an intimation of the reversal of the roles of time and succession/action/movement.

The first half of Hamlet sees Hamlet himself not as an identity in the legal sense, or in the dramatic senses which I have just outlined. As Rosenberg points out, the drama prior to Hamlet’s return from England concerns his inability to act:

I do not know

Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do;’

Sith I have cause and will and strength and means

To do’t. (Hamlet, iv. Iv)

Now, as this quote makes clear, Hamlet is very much aware of what he should do, but he is simply not able to do it. To this extent, we have an odd dramatic structure, since, if characters are understood in terms of the relations of acts to the judgement of the law, then Hamlet’s various speeches, and use of speech in the first half of the play, are simply irrelevant to the structure of his role. As Deleuze writes, ‘Hamlet is the first hero who truly needed time in order to act, whereas earlier heroes were subject to time as the consequence or an original movement (Aeschylus) or aberrant action (Sophocles).’ (Essays Critical and Clinical, 28) Rosenberg’s interpretation is precisely this, that Hamlet exists as a person, rather than an identity, and hence exists outside of the role that the play assigns him. The task of taking on the role of avenging his father is simply too big for him. The sea voyage is therefore necessary to the structure of Hamlet, as it represents the break whereby Hamlet becomes equal to the task allotted to him. What does this involve? Deleuze talks about the first half of Hamlet in terms of the ‘a priori past’. In this sense, Hamlet exists in the past in relation to the event (he is yet to become equal to his action). Now, here the two notions of the past and of inaction should remind us of Bergson’s theory of the pure past. Hamlet, in the first half of the play, exists in a state of relation to a past that is disconnected from the present. In this sense, there is a failure to relate the past to action, which is mirrored by the failure to identify himself with the actual structure of the law. As Deleuze puts it, in his discussion of Hamlet and Oedipus, ‘they are in the past and live themselves as such so long as they experience the act as too big for them.’ (DR 112) The second time, the action, is the moment of the present, where the self becomes capable of acting. This is where the emergence of our representation of the self emerges as a parallel to the self of habit (‘the projection of an ideal self in the image of the act’ [DR 112]). But, however, it is only against the future that these two moments can be related. It is only the future that allows the self of the past to be brought into a ‘secret coherence’. This secret coherence is the coherence exhibited by the Eternal Return.

Zarathustra as Drama

If we turn to Zarathustra, we can see that there are clearly parallels between the structure of Hamlet and Zarathustra. Both involve their central characters moving from a state where they are not equal to their action to the act itself. The bulk of Zarathustra is therefore governed by Zarathustra’s inability to think the eternal return (‘O Zarathustra, your fruits are ripe, but you are not ripe for your fruits.’ 169). This first part of Zarathustra is bound up with the question of the past. Of Redemption is central in this respect, in that it explores two different relationships to the past. As Zarathustra says ‘this alone is revenge itself: the will’s antipathy towards time and time’s “it was”.’ (162) Now this conception of time, with its ‘dreadful chance’ is the past of representation – the line of time that we looked at in the last few weeks. Such a form of time involves the fragmentation, and negations that we find in, for instance, the Aristotelian view of the world (it is the time of ‘fragments of men and limbs of men’ [160]). In this framework, temporality itself is seen as the ground for resentment, man is not the ground for his own actions (he cannot will backwards), and so he is in this sense alienated from what he is by the structure of temporality. In this, we can perhaps see the structure of the paralogisms that we looked at last week – the inability of man to find the ground of his own activity through recourse to a determinable identity. The spirit of revenge is therefore engendered by the passing of time, and its incommensurability with the will. Nietzsche offers two solutions to this problem. The first is the annihilation of the will (the Schopenhauerian solution), the second is the redemption of time. The Eternal return is thus that which offers us the possibility of a more appropriate relation to temporality. It functions on the one level as an ethical principle, which Deleuze formulates in a way which parallels that of Kant (‘what ever you will, will it in such a way that you also will its eternal return.’ [NP 68]). It is also that which ties the account of temporality given in chapter two to the metaphysical account of univocity which was presented in chapter one, as ‘the eternal return is neither qualitative nor extensive, but intensive, purely intensive. In other words, it is said of difference.’ (DR 303)

Deleuze claims that the second part of Zarathustra is concerned with the transformation of Zarathustra, as he finally becomes adequate to the thought of the eternal return. In the last part of Zarathustra, Zarathustra finally throws off his ‘pity for the higher man’ (335) and truly embraces the form of temporality explicit in the eternal return. The final stage, Deleuze claims, is unwritten, and would have dealt with the death of Zarathustra. On this point, I spoke with Keith Ansell Pearson over the weekend, and he told me that the current state of Nietzsche research sees Zarathustra’s death as actually occurring in part three of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (c.f. Paul S. Loeb, The Death of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, CUP). Deleuze describes this final time as ‘time by excess’ (DR 113), where the subject is once again dissolved. In essence, we can read the eternal return in this formulation purely in terms of the first two syntheses. We act by incorporating the pure past into the present (we repeat), but this generates something truly novel, the future as new. In other words, it is on the basis of the return of the past that the future is constituted as being in excess of the present. While we can give the eternal return a tripartite structure in terms of the act, as incorporating the past into the present in order to relate to the future, ‘such an exposition remains purely introductory.’ (DR 113) In fact, Deleuze presents a second interpretation of the eternal return, this time in terms of an ‘esoteric truth’ that ‘concerns – and can concern – only the third time or the series.’ (DR 113)

The Eternal Return

So, what is the structure of the Eternal Return? Well, in the Gay Science, Nietzsche presents it in the following concise form:

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ (GS §341)

Now the key question, I think, is, what is it that returns? In Zarathustra, at several moments, two different forms of return are presented. In Of the Vision and the Riddle, Zarathustra struggles with the spirit of gravity (the Dwarf). The dwarf appears to know the truth of the eternal return, that ‘Everything straight lies…all truth is crooked, time is itself a circle’ 178). Likewise, in the Convalescent, the animals tell Zarathustra that ‘everything breaks, everything is joined anew; the same house of existence builds itself forever. Everything departs, everything meets again; the ring of existence is true to itself forever.’ (234) In both these cases, Zarathustra dismisses these readings of the eternal return (the dwarf takes it too lightly, the animals make a hurdy-gurdy song of it).

This first reading essentially sees time as circular. Deleuze equates this model with a historical (and physical) mode of repetition. For example, he sees this as exemplified in the thesis of Giambattista Vico that the history of man progresses between three different ages: the age of the gods, the age of heroes, and the age of man, where we have a movement from a culture based on imagination to a culture based on reason. Vico’s conception is circular, however, with the age of man suffering a recurso to the age of the gods. In this sense, history is a process of eternal repetition. The present repeats a prior cycle, and the future is already determined in terms of the past. Now, we saw last term when we looked at Kierkegaard’s Repetition that Deleuze does not think that repetition in terms of actuality is possible (there is only resemblance). In this respect, Deleuze writes that ‘historians sometimes look for empirical correspondences between the present and the past, but however rich it may be, this network of historical correspondences involves repetition by analogy or similitude.’ (DR 113) If the eternal return was operating in these terms, then what we would have is an affirmation of judgement. We would have a redemption of the will within time, rather than a redemption of time itself. Such a redemption in essence reaffirms the representational account of the past and present, rather than overturning it. What the eternal return has to give us instead is a transfiguration of the form of time itself.

So what is it that is repeated? Well, I think the answer can be given by looking at the Genealogy of Morality. Here, Nietzsche presents a contrast between two basic attitudes towards the world, that of the lamb and the bird of prey:

There is nothing strange about the fact that lambs bear a grudge towards large birds of prey: but that is no reason to blame the large birds of prey for carrying off the little lambs. And if the lambs say to each other, ‘These birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey and most like its opposite, a lamb, – is good, isn’t he?’, then there is no reason to raise objections to this setting-up of an ideal beyond the fact that the birds of prey will view it somewhat derisively, and will perhaps say: ‘We don’t bear any grudge at all towards these good lambs, in fact we love them, nothing is tastier than a tender lamb.’ – It is just as absurd to ask strength not to express itself as strength, not to be a desire to overthrow, crush, become master, to be a thirst for enemies, resistance and triumphs, as it is to ask weakness to express itself as strength. A quantum of force is just such a quantum of drive, will, action, in fact it is nothing but this driving, willing and acting, and only the seduction of language (and the fundamental errors of reason petrified within it), which construes and misconstrues all actions as conditional upon an agency, a ‘subject’, can make it appear otherwise… no wonder, then, if the entrenched, secretly smouldering emotions of revenge and hatred put this belief to their own use and, in fact, do not defend any belief more passionately than that the strong are free to be weak, and the birds of prey are free to be lambs: – in this way, they gain the right to make the birds of prey responsible for being birds of prey. (GM Sec. 13)

Nietzsche here is presenting an argument which combines moral and ontological aspects. The natural state of affairs is that of the bird of prey, who exercises his strength naturally, and sees itself as good. The lamb, however, sees the bird of prey as evil, and therefore sees itself as good. The symmetry between these two positions is misleading, however, each rests on fundamentally different ways of seeing the world. For the bird of prey, its action is simply an expression of its strength, or, in more Nietzschean terms, we might say that the bird of prey itself is an expression of strength: “It is just as absurd to ask strength not to express itself as strength, …, as it is to ask weakness to express itself as strength.” The lamb’s reaction is both a moral reaction, and one that is made possible by an illusion fostered by grammar: it posits a subject who is responsible for exercising its strength. We can illustrate this grammatical illusion using Nietzsche’s example of lightning. When we say that ‘lightning strikes’, we are forced by the structure of language to posit a distinction between a subject (‘lightning’) and an act (‘striking’) on the other. Now we might recognise in this case that in fact there is nothing other to the lightning than its striking itself – there is not a hidden subject behind the act – but language opens up a way of thinking of the world in terms of agents and actions. Now that the lamb understands the bird of prey as an agent acting, he can posit the (illusory possibility) of the agent withholding this action. Thus, the bird of prey, once it is seen as a subject, becomes culpable for what it does.

If we return last term’s discussion of univocity, we left off with Deleuze’s account of Spinoza as providing a univocal ontology in terms of a single substance that expresses itself in finite things as modes. Despite the fact that Spinoza succeeds in generating a univocal ontology, Deleuze claims that for Spinoza, ‘substance must be said itself of the modes and only of the modes. Such a condition can be satisfied only at the price of a more general categorical reversal according to which being is said of becoming, identity of that which is different, the one of the multiple, etc.’ (DR 50) Although we have a new concept of difference with the move from oppositional difference to intensive difference, this concept of difference still has to be understood in terms of identity, as intensive difference is still a characteristic of being. Deleuze’s point is that the relation of difference to being is still structured like the terms of a judgement. Difference is said of being, and so we still understand being as if it were a subject, even if we know that in reality it is singular rather than one. The eternal return is what overcomes this conception, by giving us a conception of a substance that is a becoming rather than a being.

Instead, what returns is going to be the nomadic distribution. Deleuze’s analysis of Spinoza saw being as the ground for the modes. Replacing being with becoming means that for Deleuze, taking up the eternal return, the ground for modes is going to be a field of becoming, and so it is the intensive, nomadic distribution which returns. “Only the extreme, the excessive, returns; that which passes into something else and becomes identical…Eternal return or returning expresses the common being of all these metamorphoses, …, of all the realised degrees of power.” (DR 51) The priority of difference does not, therefore preclude the existence of identities, but asserts that what returns is not these identities themselves, but something prior to identity, which Deleuze characterises as difference. The eternal return appears as a test – whether we can bear the heaviest burden of the demon’s truth. What is this a test for? The lamb and the bird of prey both operate according to different distributions; the former according to the sedentary distribution, the latter according to the nomadic distribution. In this case, deciding between them is straightforward, but it may be difficult to see whether something is governed by a sedentary or nomadic distribution. The eternal return allows us to differentiate those two classes. Only that which is pure affirmation, or which is not separated from what it can do, can truly will the repetition of everything that makes it what it is. Those who cannot affirm this do not have their ground in the affirmative field of differences, but are instead, like the lamb, grounded in the sedentary distribution. The eternal return therefore allows us to differentiate “the superior form of everything that ‘is’” (DR 51) from those beings that are really not (as the sedentary distribution does not have an adequate origin). As he puts it in Nietzsche and Philosophy, “The eternal return teaches us that becoming-reactive [the existence of the lamb, for instance] has no being.” (NP 72) The eternal return therefore allows us to select which entities can be traced back to intensive difference and which cannot. In doing so, it allows us to characterise that set of entities which genuinely are, and are not merely secondary effects, as the lamb’s attitude is a secondary effect of the bird of prey’s.


Lecture Fourteen – The Third Synthesis of Time


Last week, we looked at the first two passive syntheses of time, and saw how they corresponded to the active syntheses of apprehension and reproduction. This week, I want to look at the final synthesis, which relates to the transcendental unity of apperception in Kant’s system. Rather than looking at the transcendental deduction, Deleuze draws on another part of the Critique of Pure Reason, however, the paralogisms, to show that an understanding of the self as substantial involves a ‘transcendental illusion’, and that it in fact depends on time as a transcendental principle. What is central to the third synthesis is therefore the conception of time that Kant develops, both in order to explain how the first two syntheses are related to one another, and to show why we are able to take the subject as the source for synthesis. I want to begin by looking at Deleuze’s characterisation of Kant’s intuition of time as being ‘out of joint’, before moving on to Kant’s account of the paralogisms. Finally, I want to relate the insights Deleuze draws from Kant’s conception of time back to Deleuze’s own three syntheses.

  1. Time is Out of Joint

                  Key to Deleuze’s analysis of Kant is the claim that for Kant, a notion of time is introduced which is ‘out of joint’. Now, this is central to both Deleuze’s attempt to overturn the traditional view of active synthesis, and the understanding of the third passive synthesis. Deleuze introduces the idea that time is out of joint with the following cryptic claim:

The joint, cardo, is what ensures the subordination of time to those properly cardinal points through which pass the periodic movements which it measures (time, number of the movement, for the soul as much as for the world). By contrast, time out of joint means demented time or time outside the curve which gave it a god, liberated from its overly simple circular figure, freed from the events which made up its content, its relation to movement overturned; in short, time presenting itself as an empty and pure form. (DR 111)

So, I want to look at this quote in three stages. First, what does it mean for time to have not been considered ‘out of joint’ (what is the ‘standard view’)? Second, how does Kant put time (and, indeed, space) ‘out of joint’? And third, what is the structure of time ‘out of joint’ (what is the ‘pure and empty form of time’)?

  1. Time in Joint

                  What is the view of time that Deleuze is here opposing? Well, as we might expect, it is in fact represented by a whole series of philosophers. Well, Deleuze gives the following account in the 1978 lecture:

Cardinal comes from cardo; cardo is precisely the hinge, the hinge around which the sphere of celestial bodies turns, and which makes them pass time and again through the so-called cardinal points, and we note their return: ah, there’s the star again, it’s time to move my sheep!

What Deleuze is referring to here is the account of time given in Plato’s Timaeus of the nature of time. The Timaeus tells the story of the creation of the world by the creator (Demiurge), who seeks to create the universe by imposing form on chaotic matter. Now, ‘finding the whole visible sphere not at rest, but moving in an irregular and disorderly fashion, out of disorder he brought order, considering that this was in every way better than the other.’ As the creator himself is perfect, he desires to create the universe as far as possible as an image of himself. As he wants to create the most perfect world possible, the world has several key attributes. First, as it cannot be less intelligent than the creatures within it, it is an animal. Second, as unity is an attribute for perfection, the world is composed of just one animal. Third, as the sphere is the most perfect form, the universe is formed as perfectly spherical. Finally, the creator himself is eternal, but given the nature of the world as already in motion, he can only create the world as a likeness to eternity:

Now the nature of the ideal being was everlasting, but to bestow this attribute in its fullness upon a creature was impossible. Wherefore he resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity; and this image we call time. (Timaeus)

The universe is here seen, therefore, as a sphere in motion. Now, at this point, we can already note the first important point in this myth. Time is here seen as a structure of the realm of appearance. While the world itself is a copy of the creator, time has no place in relation to the eternity of the creator himself. So how does time come about? Well, the first thing to note is that before the universe is organized according to time, it is still in motion, although this motion is ‘disorderly’. Thus, motion is not dependant on time, which appears afterwards. In fact, Timaeus believes that time is grounded in the elements which are most perfect in the universe. That is, the celestial bodies. Plato writes as follows:

Time, then, and the heaven came into being at the same instant in order that, having been created together, if ever there was to be a dissolution of them, they might be dissolved together. It was framed after the pattern of the eternal nature, that it might resemble this as far as was possible; for the pattern exists from eternity, and the created heaven has been, and is, and will be, in all time. Such was the mind and thought of God in the creation of time. The sun and moon and five other stars, which are called the planets, were created by him in order to distinguish and preserve the numbers of time; and when he had made-their several bodies, he placed them in the orbits in which the circle of the other was revolving-in seven orbits seven stars.

The celestial bodies thus occupy something like a mediating position, as on the one hand, they are similar to the eternal, whereas on the other, they are the ground for time. In what way do they form the ground of time? Well, the planets move in an orderly manner, which is what allows time to be related to measure (the star that represents the time to move the sheep in Deleuze’s example). This represents the Greek notion of time (although Aristotle does have a slightly more nuanced position), in that time is fundamentally subordinated to motion. Aristotle presents a somewhat similar position in the Physics, arguing that time requires change, as without change, we would not be able to determine that time had passed.

Thus then, and for this reason the night and the day were created, being the period of the one most intelligent revolution. And the month is accomplished when the moon has completed her orbit and overtaken the sun, and the year when the sun has completed his own orbit. Mankind, with hardly an exception, have not remarked the periods of the other stars, and they have no name for them, and do not measure them against one another by the help of number, and hence they can scarcely be said to know that their wanderings, being infinite in number and admirable for their variety, make up time. (Timaeus)

Time here is simply the measure of motion. On the Platonic model, therefore, we cannot have something like an understanding of the pure form of time, as time is a way in which something else (in this case, the number, or measure of motion) presents itself. Time is simply an imperfect way in which the eternal patterns of the world present themselves. To put time out of joint will therefore be to move to an understanding of time that is not based on this kind of Platonic subordination of time to intelligible motion. Now, although we might feel that rejecting something like the Platonic conception is not a particularly radical move, we can see that the subordination of time to an eternal, intelligible, and also, representational, model of time is central not just to Plato’s conception, but also to pre-Kantian philosophy in general. Leibniz, for instance, argues that the notions of space and time are simply ways in which we, as finite intellects, perceive what are essentially a series of intelligible relations between things:

As for my own opinion, I have said more than once that I hold space to be something purely relative, as time is – that I hold it to be an order of coexistences, as time is an order of successions. For space denotes, in terms of possibility, an order of things that exist at the same time, considered as existing together, without entering into their particular manners of existing. And when many things are seen together, one consciously perceives this order of things among themselves. (Leibniz Clarke Correspondence)

Space and time are simply ‘well founded phenomena’ by which we inadequately perceive the true ‘conceptual’ order of things. As such, time is really a mode in which the essential structure of succession appears to us. In this case too, therefore, time is secondary to a rational, conceptual, and representational way of ordering things. Time is predicated on a prior representational structure. To be ‘in joint’ is therefore to be hinged, tied to cardinal numbers, and tied to a prior representational order. In what sense, therefore, does Kant make time ‘out of joint?’

  1. Time Out of Joint and Intuition


The key innovation in the Kantian system which Deleuze picks up on is the division between intuition and the understanding. As we saw at the start of this term, Kant uses this distinction to show that rather than our knowledge conforming to objects, the structure of objects must conform to the structure of our cognition. He argues that relating to an object involves the active faculty of the understanding taking up what is given in passive intuition. The key problem for Kant was how to relate these two faculties together. Why was this a problem? Because, as we saw at the start of last term, these faculties dealt with the object of cognition in ways that are different in kind from one another. Now, we have already dealt with this in terms of space. As Kant showed, if we look at an object such as a glove, even if we understand all of the relations between the parts of the glove, it is still the case that we cannot determine whether this glove is left or right handed. In this case, therefore, Kant writes that ‘there are no inner differences here that any understanding could merely think; and yet the differences are inner as far as the senses teach.’ (Prolegomena, sec. 13) So, the argument from incongruent counterparts shows that space cannot be seen as a mode of presentation of conceptual relations in the way that Leibniz proposed, and Kant makes similar arguments in the Critique of Pure Reason for the difference between time and succession. Kant’s distinction of concepts and intuition therefore has the consequence that time cannot be seen as the moving image of eternity, as it is no longer the expression of an underlying representational structure, whether the ‘number of movement’ or the true ‘order of things’. Clearly, however, we do see space as involving co-existence, and time as involving successive states. How, therefore, does Kant’s view that time is non-conceptual relate to conceptual determinations, then? Or, what is the pure and empty form of time?

III The Pure and Empty Form of Time

                  As we saw in the first week of this term, Kant’s claim is that the understanding actively synthesises the manifold of intuition on order to make knowledge possible. As we saw, the transcendental deduction details how succession is imposed on the spatiotemporal manifold. The procedure involved three syntheses. First, the manifold is ‘run through’ by intuition. In order for it to appear as connected, however, these connections need to be taken up by the imagination, as we need to not simply reproduce past moments, but also to recognise them as reproduced. Finally, to provide coherence to these various moments, they need to be seen as moments related to the same object. This final stage therefore relies on a conceptual determination of the experience as the successive presentation of the same object. In this sense, succession in the case of time, and co-existence in the case of space are imposed upon time and space, rather than determining them. Kant therefore reverses the order of determination that we found in the previous model. Rather than time being a mode of the appearing of an underlying succession, for Kant, succession is a way of synthesising a prior intuition of temporality. This opens the way to escaping from an understanding of the temporal as a derivative form of representation, and grounds representation instead on something fundamentally non-representational. Succession is now a determination of a notion of an intuition of time which is not inherently successive. Now, because Kant associates all synthesis with an active subject, time is simply a material which can be taken up by the understanding. This means that he cannot fully develop the implications of this move. But there is another interpretation of this notion of time which I want to return to in the final part of the lecture.

  1. The Paralogisms


Before moving on to Deleuze’s own interpretation of time, however, I want to follow Deleuze and talk a little about the difference between the Kantian and Cartesian cogitos. Now, Deleuze claims that Kant’s theory of the ‘I’ is the ‘element of the Copernican Revolution’ (DR 109) itself. The section he is referring to is the paralogisms, and it is here that Kant mounts his attack on Descartes’ principle of the cogito (I think therefore I am). In essence, what Kant is objecting to is the inference Descartes makes from the fact that I think to the fact that I am a thinking thing, that is, a substance. Kant argues that the logical structure Descartes’ inference is really something like the following:

  1. That, the representation of which is the absolute subject of our judgements and cannot therefore be employed as determination of another thing, is substance.
  2. I, as a thinking being, am the absolute subject of all my possible judgements, and this representation of myself cannot be employed as predicate of any other thing.
  3. Therefore I, as thinking being (soul) am substance. (CPR A348)

Now, this seems to be a valid inference, in that the premises seem to lead us to the conclusion that the subject is a substance. Why is it that we cannot make the inference from ‘I think’ to ‘I am a thinking thing’? Kant’s claim is that the argument confuses a premise which is about how cognition relates to objects and a premise which is simply a logical truth. Starting with premise 2, this really states that the ‘I’ should be seen as the logical subject. This just means that we apply predicates to the ‘I’, but don’t in turn say that ‘I’ is a predicate of something else. In this sense, it is analytically true. The first statement instead refers to the way in which we talk about objects. It is a transcendental claim. Really, what it is saying is that if a given object is the subject of judgements, and cannot be taken to be the predicate of something else, then that object is a substance. As such, it is really a statement about the relation between representation and objects (a claim about how objects must be constituted in order for judgements to be able to relate to them). There is thus an equivocation in Descartes’ argument between two different uses of the term, logical subject.

Here we come to Descartes’ essential problem. Objects conform to our cognition, and in this sense, the category of substance is something we use to construct a world that is amenable to judgement. It is one of the categories that the transcendental deduction shows makes thinking about objects possible. Now, Descartes is attempting to apply a determination (‘I think’) to an object that is undetermined (the ‘I am’), but according to our notion of substance, substance is a way of organising something which is given. According to Kant, the mistake is that Descartes hasn’t considered how the object can become determinable (under what form it can be given). For Kant, the answer is that objects are given in intuition, and therefore that the ‘I am’ can only be determined provided it is given to us by the intuition of time. But clearly the ‘I am’ that Descartes is introducing as a thinking thing us not an object which is given to us in intuition. As Kant notes, when we introspect, we don’t find the self as a given object: ‘No fixed and abiding self can present itself in this flux of inner appearances.’ (A107) Descartes is therefore guilty of attempting to apply a determination outside of its proper sphere of application, by not using it as a form of synthesising intuitions, which leads him into error.

This brings us to the split in Kant’s philosophy. We can see what is going on here by relating the situation back to the one we found in the transcendental deduction. There, Kant made the claim that ‘it must be possible for the ‘I think’ to accompany all my representations.’ (B131) What made this possible was a prior synthesis by the transcendental unity of apperception. Now, this prior synthesis was something that we couldn’t say anything about, as it was the ground for the categories (it was prior to notions such as substance). Now, Descartes’ error therefore emerges because he conflates two different levels: ‘the unity of apperception, which is subjective, is taken for the unity of the subject as a thing’ (Reflexionen 5533).

When we looked at Bergson, we noted that the self was merely the expression of the actualisation of the past in relation to the future. That is, the self is merely an epiphenomenon of a deeper process. In fact, Kant seems to have ended up at a similar position here. Synthesis is really conducted on a transcendental level that is presupposed by the fact that we can apply the ‘I think’ to all of our experiences. As we can only be given to ourselves in time, when we reflect, what we observe isn’t the activity itself (which is transcendental), but merely the empirical after-effect of it (the ‘I think’ is merely an analytic result of an underlying process of synthesis):

The spontaneity of which I am conscious in the “I think” cannot be understood as the attribute of a substantial and spontaneous being, but only as the affection of a passive self which experiences its own thought…being exercised in it and upon it but not by it. (DR 108)

This brings us to the final point in our discussion of Kant’s three syntheses. What is it that makes the final synthesis possible, that is, the synthesis of recognition? Kant argues that in order for us to be able to accompany all of our representations by an ‘I think’, there must be a prior, active synthesis, as the unity of the manifold is experienced through the passive form of time. This inference to the conditions of possibility of the ‘I think’, however, rests directly on the notion that time is simply passively given, and that all synthesis takes place by an active self. Given the passive nature of the ‘I think,’ which is determinable under the form of time, Kant is therefore obliged to posit a transcendental ego which makes the ‘I think’ possible. Deleuze has an alternative explanation of how we are able to confront a unified world, which is to recognise that syntheses can also be passive. In this regard, what makes the ‘I think’ possible is ‘a synthesis which is itself passive (contemplation-contraction).’ (DR 109) In this sense, Kant posits the third synthesis simply because he has ruled out a constitutive role for time itself by assigning all organisation to the understanding.

  1. The Pure and Empty Form of Time


Finally, I want to turn to Deleuze’s final synthesis itself. The key questions are, what is the pure form of time for Deleuze (I don’t have much of an answer to this, I’m afraid), and second, what is the role that it plays? We can give a schematic answer to the first question by noting the revolutionary result of the Kantian theory of intuition. That is, that rather than time being a mode of succession, succession is rather a mode in which time appears to us. In fact, succession is simply a way in which we organise time for Kant. Deleuze puts this point forward as follows:

Time cannot be defined by succession because succession is only a mode of time, coexistence is itself another mode of time. You can see that he arranged things to make the simple distribution: space-coexistence, and time-succession. Time, he tells us, has three modes: duration or permanence, coexistence and succession. But time cannot be defined by any of the three because you cannot define a thing through its modes. (14/03/78 lecture)

The talk about modes is important here, and is, I think, a reference to Spinoza and substance. As we saw briefly last term, Spinoza held that all attributes, such as thought and extension, were equally expressions of the same substance. This allowed him, for instance, to overcome the difficulty Descartes had of explaining how the mind and body interacted. Here, Deleuze is suggesting that succession and co-existence are simply different ‘attributes’ of time. The pure and empty form of time therefore has the same relationship to succession and co-existence as the attributes for Spinoza have to substance.

Finally, it’s necessary to ask why the third synthesis is introduced, given that habit and memory seem to give us everything we need to explain the synthesis of time. Well, I think that there are two reasons for this. The first is that memory ‘still remains relative to the representation that it grounds.’ (DR 110) That is, memory ultimately orients itself to actuality. As such, it is ultimately understood only as what allows us to deploy representations. We therefore risk collapsing back into a prioritisation of identity as that for which memory is. The second reason, which I infer from the text, is that we need to explain the interaction of the two very different forms of time themselves. The question of how memory is able to relate to habit is much like Kant’s question of how two different faculties can relate to one another. Deleuze’s answer to this question in terms of time is ultimately Spinozist. Habit and memory can relate to each other because they are simply different modalities or expressions of the form of time itself. As such we can think (somewhat figuratively) of memory and habit as simply being different ways of presenting the same underlying form of time itself. By taking this approach, the problem of the priority of succession over co-existence, or vice versa, is put out of play. They are both expressions of the same ontologically prior temporal form, which in itself is neither successive nor co-existent. The pure and empty form of time is therefore that which bifurcates itself into the past of memory and the present of habit. Next week, I want to explore this further by talking a little about Deleuze’s use of Nietzsche and the Eternal Return.

Lecture 13 – Transcendental Deduction and Passive Synthesis


Last week, we began to look at the notion of passive synthesis as it appeared in the work of Bergson. This week, I want to turn to Deleuze’s own account of passive synthesis, and the first two syntheses of time. Now, there are lots of different interpretations of the three syntheses, such as Faulkner’s which relates the syntheses to the work of Proust, or that of Joe Hughes, which relates them to Husserl’s Internal synthesis of time consciousness. As the material is difficult enough, I want to largely follow the path of Deleuze’s own argument, making occasional reference to Kant’s conception of synthesis as the bringing together of representations into a unity.

The first question we need to ask is, what is the project of chapter two of Difference and Repetition? As we shall see, the first synthesis is related to Hume’s theory of habit, and it is in Deleuze’s early 1953 book on Hume, Empiricism and Subjectivity, that we can find an account of the difference between Hume’s project and Kant’s:

We embark upon a transcendental critique when, having situated ourselves on a methodologically reduced plane that provides an essential certainty – a certainty of essence – we ask: how can there be a given, how can something be given to a subject, and how can the subject give something to itself? … The critique is empirical when, having situated ourselves in a purely immanent point of view, which makes possible a description whole rule is found in determinable hypotheses and whose model is found in physics, we ask: how is the subject constituted in the given? The construction of the given makes room for the constitution of the subject. (ES 87)

So here we have two very different projects. For Kant, we begin with the notion of the subject and object, and attempt to explain how the two can enter into a relationship with one another. In this case, therefore, the ‘methodologically reduced plane’ is the field of representation, with its concomitant positing of judgement. Such an approach therefore seems to rule out the kind of univocal enquiry we looked at last term. Hume’s approach instead precedes the subject (begins with the ‘given’), shows its constitution, which in turn allows us to explain how the subject systematises the given into its own categories (the constitution of representation). So Hume’s (and by implication, Deleuze’s) account will have to explain not only the passive constitution of the subject, but also the possibility of active synthesis itself. Now, Deleuze begins with Hume and the notion of habit. The first synthesis of time will therefore be concerned with how habit is itself a synthesis of time.

First Synthesis

Deleuze begins with Hume’s (apparently) ‘famous thesis’ that ‘repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it.’ (oDR 70) Now, this point should be reasonably clear. If, to take Deleuze’s example, we have a sequence, AB AB AB, then it is obviously the case that repeating cannot be a function of the objects, AB, in the sequence themselves. If they were somehow altered by the process of repetition, then it would no longer be the same thing that was repeated (it would differ by the simple fact that it was a ‘repeat’). At this point it is worth noting that our discussions of Kierkegaard last term showed that there were two different forms of repetition. First, there was mechanical repetition or the repetition of incongruent counterparts. Second, there was the deeper repetition (the repetition of Job), which was something like a transcendental repetition, which made the first possible. The former is an actual, perceivable actual repetition, and s what is being referred to here.

So what is it that allows us to expect B when we perceive A, in other words, what is it that allows us to contract habits? Hume provides the following test that any explanation must follow in a section referred to by Deleuze in the footnotes:

When any hypothesis, therefore, is advancd to explain a mental operation, which is common to men and beasts, we must apply the same hypothesis to both; and as every true hypothesis will abide this trial, so I may venture to affirm, that no false one will ever be able to endure it. The common defect of those systems, which philosophers have employd to account for the actions of the mind, is, that they suppose such a subtility and refinement of thought, as not only exceeds the capacity of mere animals, but even of children and the common people in our own species; who are notwithstanding susceptible of the same emotions and affections as persons of the most accomplishd genius and understanding. Such a subtility is a dear proof of the falshood, as the contrary simplicity of the truth, of any system. (Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, 3.16.1)

Hume’s point is that any explanation of a mental operation in common between man and animals, in this case, the contraction of a habit, cannot rely on faculties which animals do not possess. Habit cannot therefore be an inference on the part of the understanding, as animals are also capable of contracting habits.

Rather than an inference from a number of supporting cases, Deleuze argues that Hume sees habit formation as a process whereby past instances of the AB sequence are contracted together to form generalities by the imagination. The imagination operates like a ‘sensitive plate’ in order to develop a qualitative impression of the AB relation, rather than the quantitative relation of the understanding, which relies on storing a sequence of prior moments.

Now, on this level we have a conception of time, in that habit leads to the future on the basis of the past. After having observed AB enough times, we anticipate a future B when we perceive A. So habit gives us a relation between the past and the future. In what sense is this a synthesis of time? Hume says the following about our perception of time:

For we may observe, that there is a continual succession of perceptions in our mind; so that the idea of time being for ever present with us. (Treatise, 1.2.5)

Habit turns this succession into a synthesis of time by systematising it and relating it to our experience. Rather than simply having a succession, certain impressions are retained (qualitatively), and others are anticipated on the basis of our retained impressions. We therefore have a model of time whereby aspects of the past are retained, and aspects of the future are anticipated from within the present. Now, it is important to note that this notion of retention is not the notion of memory that we looked at last week, as what is retained here is precisely that which is of use to us, whereas pure memory is passive.

As I said at the start of this lecture, Deleuze’s account of method aims to show how active syntheses are possible on the basis of passive syntheses, and so we need an account of how these higher syntheses are possible. The first point to note is that the systematisation of the flux of experience is, for Deleuze, the constitution of the subject:

Habit is the constitutive root of the subject, and the subject, at its root, is the synthesis of time – the synthesis of the present and the past in the light of the future. (ES 93)

I want to come back to this point in a moment, but we can now see how the active syntheses are possible. Deleuze claims that once the subject emerges, then ‘on the basis of the qualitative impression in the imagination, memory reconstitutes the particular cases as distinct, conserving them in its own ‘temporal space’. The past is then no longer the immediate past of retention, but the reflexive past of representation, of reflexive and reproduced particularity.’ (oDR 71) So representation emerges as a spatialisation of an underlying qualitative process. The synthesis of a spatial manifold therefore, according to Deleuze, relies on a prior synthesis whereby the notions of past and future are generated, and the indifferent moments of sensation are related to one another.

What is the nature of the subject that is constituted through this process of the contraction of habit? Well, as I said, the subject is simply the organisation of impressions themselves. It is thus constituted by a synthesis, rather than an agent of synthesis. Habit is here not being understood as a form of activity on the part of the subject, therefore, but rather as a mode of expectation, or in Deleuze’s terms, a contemplation. Now, it is this contemplation of time as involving anticipations and retentions that Deleuze claims is the subject. Such an understanding of habit as passive is not possible for an account such as Kant’s, because synthesis has to be seen as an activity of a subject.

Now, there are a number of implications that Deleuze draws out of this model of contemplation.

First, this synthesis of time essentially constitutes the time of the subject as one of duration, in Bergson’s sense. That is, the time that is contemplated by the subject is organised according to rhythms of anticipation, rather than simply as a succession of moments. Rather than mathematical time, which is modelled on space, the time of habit, like duration forces us to wait.

Second, if the subject is simply the synthesis of time into an organisational structure, then it is going to be the case that wherever we encounter such a synthesis, we will encounter a self: ‘there is a self wherever a furtive contemplation has been established.’ (DR 100) This means that habit is not itself a psychological phenomenon, but instead operates throughout the world. In fact, as this synthesis is constitutive of the psychological realm, it will operate in the material world prior to it. We can see, for instance, that the heart contracts, not in the sense of the actual movement it makes, but to the extent that it organises an essentially indifferent succession into a series of moments of a particular duration (the heartbeat). Now, if the heart can be seen as operating according to a habit, then so can almost everything in the world. Deleuze puts this point as follows:

Perhaps it is irony to say that everything is contemplation, even rocks and woods, animals and men, even Actaeon and the stag, Narcissus and the flower, even our actions and our needs. But irony in turn is still a contemplation, nothing but a contemplation. (DR96)

So we have something like a pan-psychism in Deleuze’s work, but with the psyche understood in a very unconventional manner. Another implication of this is that if everything is a contemplation, then although the organisation of time is subjective, all time is organised. Essentially, the world is constituted as a field of coexisting rhythms operating with different tones, rather than as pure succession. This might remind us of Deleuze’s account of Spinoza’s characterisation of a body:

In the first place, a body, however small it may be, is composed of an infinite number of particles; it is the relations of motion and rest, of speeds and slownesses between particles, that define a body, the individuality of a body. (SPP 123)

Third, when we look at how habit functions, even when a habit is driven by a need on the part of an organism, it is not the case that the habit itself is constituted in terms of the objects themselves. If I am thirsty, for instance, I do not anticipate or expect the molecular structure, H2O, but rather water. Habit does not operate in terms of that which generates impressions, but rather in terms of signs transmitted to us. This means that the idea of representation, that we think with intellectual copies of things, is not operative at the level of habit, and does not need to be.

This leads us on to the fourth point. Deleuze has said that the heart contemplates, and obviously, the heart is a part of us. What is the relation between us and our heart, and all of the other organs and constituents of organs that make us up? We ourselves, according to Deleuze, are systems of syntheses:

The self, therefore, is by no means simple: it is not enough to relativise or pluralise the self, all the while retaining for it a simple attenuated form. Selves are larval subjects; the world of passive syntheses constitutes the system of the self, under conditions yet to be determined, but it is the system of a dissolved self. (DR 100)

The notion of sign is important here, because the relations between levels of the self cannot be understood causally as if the self were a series of atomic elements in relation. We don’t have interactions between different substances, but interactions between levels of the same substance. Rather than a causal interaction between entities, we therefore have signals between levels (our heartbeat appears as a ‘sign’ in our world, but this sign does not resemble the movement of the heart itself, which relates to an entirely different series of impressions, as impressions are constituted by the heart’s contraction, which is different from our own).

From the notion of habit, therefore, Deleuze develops an entire ontology of the world as a system of durations communicating through the transmissions of signs. Why is this synthesis not sufficient?

Second Synthesis

The first thing to note is that there is more than one relation to the past that is possible. Hume gives us an account of a durational present, which relies on the retention of past experience in the present. Deleuze represents this in terms of the particularity of the immediate past being retained and orientated towards the general, or open horizon of the future (anticipation). This relied on the contraction of the past into what Deleuze called the ‘sensitive plate’ (DR 90) of the imagination. We are also able to reproduce past experiences of particular events, which is the activity that Kant saw as the main activity of the imagination. In this case, particular events are represented against the backdrop of the past in general. Now as we saw last week, Bergson argues that this process of reproduction relies on principles of association that cannot be grounded without an account of the past that pushes it outside of the bounds of representation, and Deleuze alludes to this point at the beginning of his discussion: ‘The limits of this representation or reproduction are in fact determined by the variable relations of resemblance and contiguity known as forms of association.’ (DR 102) So once again, the grounds for representation are going to be not themselves representable. So how is this played out in terms of the active synthesis of reproduction?

Well, we can begin by noting that there is a key difference between retention or anticipation, and reproduction. Retention does incorporate the past into our present, but only in order to give it a certain rhythm. Experience has a certain duration to it, and the retained past of the first synthesis is a moment in the structure of this present – there is only one present which stretches out into time according to the anticipations of habit. When we recall a past event, however, we are dealing with another moment in time entirely – a different present. Reproduction is therefore a relation between two presents – one that was, and one that now is. Now, as Deleuze notes, reproduction therefore involves the co-existence of these two presents: the present within which I remember, and the memory itself. To differentiate the past event from the event of recollection, Deleuze therefore argues that ‘it is of the essence of representation not only to represent something but also to represent its own representivity’ (DR 102) – to represent the past as past. Now, Hume’s first synthesis obviously doesn’t give us the resources we need to understand this synthesis. Reproduction relies on habit, in that it is habit that constitutes a present, but reproduction goes beyond it, in that it sees time as a relation between presents. The question is, what are these presents ‘embedded’ in (or what is the condition for their relation)? Deleuze’s answer is that it is the past. Deleuze’s argument is a little unclear here, but we can build a case for it on the basis of the fact that it is the principles of association that allow for the relation between presents, and these in turn rely on a Bergsonian conception of the past.

Deleuze presents the account of the pure past by presenting three paradoxes. What makes these paradoxes paradoxical is the inability of representation to characterise its own account of representation. Provided we understand the past as non-representational, the problems they highlight dissolve. The first paradox is that the past cannot be constructed on the basis of the present:

If a new present were required for the past to be constituted as past, then the former present would never pass, and the new one would never arrive. (DR 103)

Deleuze’s point here is that if we see time as a series of atomic moments and try to conceptualise the notion of the past, then we encounter a simple logical problem. In order for this present to be responsible for the constitution of the past, it would have to be replaced by a new present. But a new present can only emerge if the original present has already been constituted as passed (otherwise there would be no temporal ‘space’ for it). Thus, we cannot represent the past as being formed by a succession of moments. Now if the past cannot be successively constituted from our representation of the present, it must coexist with the present.

The second paradox is that of co-existence. If the past cannot be constituted from the present, it must be different in kind from it. Now, as what characterises the present is the self-sufficient, atomic nature of the presents which make it up, the past must be non-atomic. If that is the case, then it cannot be only a part of the past which co-exists with the present, but the whole of it (this is Bergson’s argument, which, I think, is clearer than Deleuze’s).

The final paradox is that of pre-existence. The past, as it is a condition of the passing of the present, pre-exists the present, as a condition of it.

Now, while reproduction relies on the pure past in order to relate different presents to one another, when we consciously recollect a past event, it always appears to us as a present which has passed. So the active synthesis of reproduction rests on the passive synthesis of memory, which is itself not representable. Once again, therefore, what makes possible an active synthesis is an underlying passive synthesis.

Two Forms of Repetition

We can now see how these two syntheses lead to two concepts of repetition. In fact, there are four repetitions at play in Difference and Repetition at this point, as we have two levels, habit and memory, and two modes of operating at these levels, active and passive synthesis. First, however, we need to see how these two levels interact. This interaction is quite straightforward. To return once more to the question of association, the problem with the representational account was that it was unable to explain how different moments came to be selected as a basis for habit, as every moment possessed an affinity of some sort with every other moment. Now, Hume appears to solve this problem by introducing the notion of a contractive faculty of the imagination, rather than the Kantian account, which operated more like an inference from previous cases to the present case through shared properties. We still need to know how the imagination is able to select what it contracts, or what it fixes on as the basis for its anticipation. This is where the synthesis of the past comes into play. As we saw last week, Bergson represents the past as a cone, each level of which contains the entirety of the past, but at different levels of contraction and relaxation. At the widest level of the cone, we have the absolute relaxation of memory, the pure past. At the point of the cone, the past was contracted down to a point of practical generality. Between the two were layered the past in different degrees of contraction and relaxation. Each of these layers of contraction and relaxation can be seen as a field of different similarities and differences between events, just as in Bergson’s example of hearing a word in a foreign language, the meaning of the term can be evoked, or the first time I heard the word. These two syntheses are therefore related as follows:

[T]he sign of the present is a passage to the limit, a maximal contraction which comes to sanction the choice of a particular level as such, which is in itself contracted or relaxed among an infinity of possible levels. (DR 105)

The imagination that Hume talks about is therefore the point of actualisation of a particular plane of memory in relation to action. We therefore have two different contractions: the contraction of the plane itself, and then a different kind of contraction, whereby that plane of memory is related to the actual world.

We can therefore say there are two forms of passive repetition – the repetition of habit, which is ‘empirical’, and is the repetition of instants, and the repetition of memory, whereby the same past is repeated at a series of different levels, with different degrees of contraction and relaxation. Habit synthesises essentially indifferent elements into a field of temporality, or duration, and in doing so creates what Deleuze calls ‘Material’ or ‘clothed’ repetition. It does repeat, as in the case of the heartbeat, but only on the basis of the ‘bare’ repetition which underlies it. This repetition is based on memory, and is responsible for what Deleuze calls ‘Destiny’: the fact that everything is determined by the past, but a past that still allows for freedom through the selection of the level at which the past is played out.

Deleuze clearly privileges the repetition of memory over that of habit in these sections, but it’s worth noting that both are sub-representational. Habit itself can only be represented by projecting the essentially durational relationship of past and present to the future into a ‘space of conservation and calculation’ (DR 106), that is, by seeing it in spatial terms. We therefore have the following taxonomy:

Material (clothed) repetition: actual, empirical, habit, non-representational, durational, passive

Resemblance: actual, empirical, spatial, representational, successive, atomic, active

Bare repetition: virtual, noumenal, transcendental, memory, non-representational, passive

Reproduction: actual, empirical, representational, atomic, relates presents to one another, active


Deleuze concludes his account with a reference to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, with its notion of involuntary memory. Deleuze takes from Proust’s reminiscence of Combray on tasting the Madeleine cake to be an instance of the ontological nature of memory. As the past coexists with the present, the moment of reminiscence is one that offers the possibility of an access to a past which has never been lived, which is different in kind from the world presented in terms of our practical engagements. In spite of this, the picture is not yet complete, and there is a third synthesis which is ultimately going to provide the ground for memory and habit.

Lecture 12: Bergson and Passive Synthesis


Last week, we looked at the notion of active synthesis, as Kant uses it in the Critique of Pure Reason. Here, Kant defines synthesis as ‘the act of putting different representations together, and of grasping what is manifold in them in one act of knowledge.’ (CPR A77/B109) We saw that this idea of synthesis was fundamentally tied to the notions of subjects and objects, and, through the categories, to the notion of judgement. In fact, this is clear from Kant’s definition, as a judging is this conjunction of what is manifold in a single act (A is B). Deleuze’s claim is that Kant borrows this conscious, psychological, notion of synthesis, therefore, which applies to knowledge of objects, and uses it as a model for the constitution of objects themselves.

Now, it is Husserl who comes up with the notion of a passive synthesis. Husserl notes that when we look around the world, even before we arrive at the level of judgement, the object has a certain level of constitution. So, when I look at this table, even before I separate out the aspects of its table-ness and its wooden-ness (the two aspects of the table needed to form a judgement of the kind Husserl is looking for), it is still in a sense ‘there’, and available to me. We can extend this notion, and note that when I ‘pick out’ the table as the focus of my attention, I pick it out from a passive background of objects accessible to me, but not yet structured in terms of judgement. It is only when I shift my attention that something else, the door for instance, becomes thematised so that I can make a judgement about it. The world, therefore, is receptive to judgement, but is not yet actively understood in terms of judgement. Husserl calls this the ‘pre-predicative givenness’ of things (Smith, Husserl and the Cartesian Meditations, 127). Such a state therefore calls for a synthesis, but not the kind of active taking up into consciousness which characterises Kant’s account. Husserl therefore calls it a ‘passive synthesis’. Now, for Husserl, this kind of synthesis is still tied in the last analysis to the ego (he calls it the ‘lowest level of activity’ [Smith, 128]), and so will not serve Deleuze’s purposes. Deleuze’s question follows on from this notion of passive synthesis, however, and the question which will occupy us today is, is it possible to give an account of the organisation of experience which does not rely on the activity of consciousness? That is, is it possible to avoid the structure Kant presents us with which subsumes difference under the identities of the subject and the object? Now, this question is important for Deleuze for two reasons.

First, he needs an account of this sort to show that he can provide an alternative to the Kantian notion of synthesis. That is, if Kant’s definition of synthesis is correct, then organisation will always imply a central identity. A proper concept of difference will therefore be impossible to develop.

Second, if he is able to show not only the coherence of the notion of passive synthesis, but also its actual presence in the constitution of experience, then he will be able to show that the Kantian account is unsustainable. Kant’s account relies on the model of synthesis as spontaneous unification of a manifold by a subject, and so if another form of synthesis is available, the necessity of the categories unifying experience collapses, and with it Kant accord of the world with the structure of judgement. It’s worth noting at this point that Deleuze isn’t claiming that all synthesis is passive. We will still be able to make judgements. These will not be a complete specification of the object, however.

Rather than dealing with Husserl, I want to work through Bergson’s account of memory today, as this provides the foundation for Deleuze’s alternative to Kant’s three syntheses of time.

Matter and Memory is a very rich text, and sets out not simply a model of psychology, but also the basis of an ontology which supports this psychology. It involves numerous deviations from the standard account of how memory functions that we might find, for instance, in Kant or Hume’s models of psychology. In order to provide a framework to get to the heart of what Deleuze finds useful about Bergson’s model, I want to follow Deleuze’s characterisation of Bergson in Bergsonism, which was published a couple of years before Difference and Repetition. Deleuze’s title Bergsonism, is not arbitrary here, as he if flagging the fact that he is interested in a Bergsonian approach, rather than Bergson’s philosophy itself. Deleuze characterises Bergsons’s as based on the assumption of four main propositions:

(1) we place ourselves at once in a leap, in the ontological element of the past (the paradox of the leap); (2) there is a difference in kind between the present and the past (the paradox of Being); (3) the past does not follow the present that it has been (the paradox of coexistence); (4) what coexists with each present is the whole of the past, integrally, on various levels of contraction and relaxation (the paradox of psychic repetition) (Bergsonism, 61)

These four propositions are distinguished from the four propositions of the standard view which Bergson is opposing. These are the following:

(1) That we can reconstitute the past with the present; (2) we pass gradually from one to the other; (3) that they are distinguished by a before and an after; (4) that the work of the mind is carried out by the addition of elements (rather than by changes of level, genuine jumps, the reworking of systems, etc.) (Bergsonism, 61-2)

I want to first look at the view that Bergson is opposed to, before turning to the alternative.


The Standard View of Memory

We can see that all of the assumptions of the standard view of memory emerge from an attempt to preserve something like the Kantian view of psychology that we looked at last week. This view was essentially a hylomorphic account which saw the mind as operating on a field of given entities in order to give them unity. Now, this view, in turn, rests on the idea that the mind is made up of atomic elements which are brought into relation by the active powers of the mind. So, for instance, Hume makes the claim that ‘simple perceptions or impressions and ideas are such as admit of no distinction nor separation.’ So, how do we remember? Last week, we looked at Kant’s account of the synthesis of reproduction by the imagination. The claim was that in order to be able to perform an act, such as counting, we need to be able to reproduce the previous moments of our experience, in order to relate them to the present moment of consciousness. By taking both moments together, we are able to unify them into the act of counting. Similarly, it is by reproducing our memories of cinnabar (a soft wood from the cinnabar tree, which grows in Southeast Asia), we are able to associate the cinnabar with the colour red. This is a paradigm case of Deleuze’s fourth point, that the work of the mind is carried out by the addition of elements. To return to Kant, it is ‘the act of putting different representations together.’ Now, implicit in this act of reproduction is the notion that memories are not different in kind from sensory impressions. This point is made explicit in the empiricist tradition, and Hume says the following in the Treatise:

We find by experience, that when any impression has been present with the mind, it again makes its appearance there as an idea; and this it may do after two different ways: either when in its new appearance it retains a considerable degree of its first vivacity, and is somewhat intermediate betwixt an impression and an idea: or when it entirely loses that vivacity, and is a perfect idea. The faculty, by which we repeat our impressions in the first manner, is called the MEMORY, and the other the IMAGINATION. It is evident at first sight, that the ideas of the memory are much more lively and strong than those of the imagination, and that the former faculty paints its objects in more distinct colours, than any which are employed by the latter. When we remember any past event, the idea of it flows in upon the mind in a forcible manner; whereas in the imagination the perception is faint and languid, and cannot without difficulty be preserved by the mind steady and uniform for any considerable time. Here then is a sensible difference betwixt one species of ideas and another. (Treatise 1.1.3)

Sensations differ merely by degree of vivacity from memories (this is point 2 of Deleuze’s analysis: that we pass gradually from the past to the present). Now, as Bergson notes, while this account sounds reasonable when we begin from the perspective of the present (the idea that memories are weak versions of perceptions), if we invert the order of analysis, if becomes problematic. If we take the notion of an intense pain, then as it recedes in memory, it will become less intense. Now, Bergson notes that there will come a point where we do not know ‘whether what I feel is a slight sensation, which I experience, or a slight sensation, which I imagine.’ (MM 136) Now, as Bergson says, while we might agree that there is an insight contained in the fact that memory only becomes of practical benefit to us once it is introduced into an actual state of affairs (related to actual impressions), this does not mean that it has to be of the same kind of those impressions. Just as the hypnotist’s suggestion may make us feel hot, this is not a result of the ‘hotness’ of the words themselves. Once we recognise this possibility, however, we see that there is another implicit assumption in the associationist position. That is that memory and perception are differentiated by one being past, and the other, present, as if the two were differentiated on a line of time. If, however, we see the past as different in kind from the present, then it is difficult to see how the past could simply be a present which has passed.

In fact, there is a fundamental difficulty with an account that sees memory as operating in associationist terms. As we saw last week, in order for association to be possible, Kant claims that we need a prior synthesis whereby impressions are brought into ‘affinity’ with one another. In fact, as Bergson notes, ‘we should seek in vain for two ideas which have not some point of resemblance or which do not touch each other somewhere.’ (MM 163) The point which Bergson is making is that once we have separated memories into a series of passive givens, in the manner such as Kant’s, the principle whereby they are related to one another appears to be arbitrary: ‘why should an image which is, by hypothesis, self sufficient, seek to accrue itself to others either similar or given in contiguity with it?’ (MM 165) We can relate this point to Deleuze’s criticisms of the notion of law that we looked at last term. There we saw that in order for a law to function, we had to see it as ranging over a field of discretely determined entities. But this made it impossible for us to provide an account of how those entities themselves were determined. Similarly here, once we have reached the level of discretely determined sensations, it is impossible to determine the principles by which they are related to one another, primarily because their self-sufficiency means that they are not internally related to other memories. For this reason, we require an external force, such as the active synthesis of consciousness, to impose a set of relations on them. If this act of relation is external to the elements, and comes after them, then we cannot explain how it is able to operate according to an affinity we find within them. Bergson provides as for now cryptic alternative: ‘In fact, we perceive the resemblance before we perceive the individuals which resemble one another; and in an aggregate of contiguous parts, we perceive the whole before the parts.’ (MM 165) Bergson’s point therefore is that there is a self-relation of the moments prior to their constitution as individuals that can be given to an active synthesis. This in effect is the claim (obscure for now) that active synthesis is transcendentally dependent on a prior passive (non-conscious) synthesis.

What is the root cause of the problems with the classical account of memory, therefore? Deleuze’s claim is that we have failed to characterise the relation of memory in terms of its ‘true differences in kind or articulations of the real’. In this case, we can imagine a series of categories: object, impression, sensation, memory. Now, at some point, we have to make a distinction between these terms. For associationism, we argue for a difference in kind between objects and the latter three categories. This is what leads to the classical problems of scepticism which, for instance, Kant’s project attempted to overcome. Deleuze’s point is that making the distinction at this point doesn’t match up with natural articulations of reality, and leads to ‘badly analysed composites’ – we take sensation and memory to only differ in degree when in fact, they differ in kind. Bergson makes a different division amongst these concepts, situating object, impression, and sensation on one side, and memory on the other. Thus, for Bergson, objects themselves are merely images. Once the proper analysis at this level has been carried out, the problems of associationism dissolve. In terms of Deleuze’s relation to the analytic tradition, Deleuze is quite close to Wittgenstein at this point, in that they both claim that the important moment in philosophy is that which precedes the analysis of arguments (in Deleuze’s term, the question, in Wittgenstein, the analysis of the language game which allows the philosophical problem to be posed). The key difference is, I think that whereas Wittgenstein sees true philosophy as the effort to dissolve false problems, Deleuze sees this moment as rather the beginning of a philosophy of difference. The fact that Wittgenstein ultimately closes down metaphysical enquiry leads to Deleuze calling him ‘an assassin of philosophy’. So how does a proper analysis of memory allow us to produce and account of memory?

Bergson’s Positive Account


                  Bergson’s account opposes the empiricist account in many key respects. It sees memory as different in kind from perception, the past as co-existing with the present, and forming a structure of co-existence, and the movement of memory as an ontological, rather than psychological, procedure. I want to focus today on just giving an overview of Bergson’s theory of memory. We can begin by noting three terms: recollection-memory, habit-memory, and perception. Now, in Kant’s philosophy, these three terms are run together. Habits are produced by the re-presentation of actual past experiences by the imagination, just as, presumably, the imagination reproduces particular events from the past that we recollect. These moments are represented as the equivalent of perceptions. As we know, however, there is a clear difference between the notion of habit which involves orienting ourselves towards a world of things, and the experience, for instance, of day-dreaming, which involves a detachment from concerns.

If we want to understand how these two notions are related, we need to begin by recognising that consciousness is, for Bergson, fundamentally oriented towards action. That means that the present moment of time is to be understood in terms of the connection between perception and action (in sensory motor terms). Our principle concern is with our orientation towards future possibilities, rather than towards the past. In this respect, however, the memory is obviously of use, as it allows us to act on the basis of prior experience. This was the basis of Kant’s claim that to form habits required an affinity of perceptions, in order that relations of similarity and contiguity could be formed between the past and present. Now, as we have seen, Bergson believes that memory is different in kind from perception, and so it cannot be the case that memories are simply representations like perception itself. Rather, memory ‘begets sensation’ (MM 141) when it is brought to bear on a present situation. So the present is the site of the integration of two movements which are different in kind. So this leads to a number of questions. If the past is unlike the present, how is it structured? And, if the past is unlike the present, how is it able to be integrated into the present?

Beginning with the first question, we can note that there appears to be a process of selection involved in action. That is, what is similar to the present is brought to bear on present experience. As Bergson notes, children often have far greater facility of recall than adults, which is inversely proportional to their ability to actualise the experiences appropriate to the present context. Bergson makes the following point in this regard:

Indeed, we observe this same exaggeration of spontaneous memory in men whose intellectual development hardly goes beyond that of childhood. A missionary, after preaching a long sermon to some African savages, heard one of them repeat it textually, with the same gestures, from beginning to end. (MM 154)

If detail of one’s recollections is inversely proportional to action in this way, then ‘a human being who should dream his life instead of living it and would no doubt keep before his eyes at each moment the infinite multitude of the details of his past history.’ (MM 155) So memory that functions by recollection contains a greater and greater part of the past, until we reach a point at which it is completely detached from action and hence, in the state of pure memory, contains a complete record of the past. Now, as we know, memory is different in kind from the present, which relates itself by succession to the future. We can now give a clearer account of its structure.

Well, if we recognise that the empiricist model sees memory as disconnected and successive (Bergson’s characterisation of ‘self-sufficient atoms’), then the rejection of this model is going to mean that we no longer see memory composed of separate parts. Now, if that is the case, then we will not be able to separate one particular set of memories from others. This implies that memory stores the whole of the past, rather than just moments of particular interest to the subject. Now, given that the past cannot be divided up into elements, then it must be the case that the whole of the past is also present in our practical relations to the world. Selection on the basis of similarity will not explain how only a small part of the past is related to the present, as selection implies detachable elements, and as we saw, similarity is presupposed rather than explained by the empiricist model. Instead of a process of selection, we have a process of expansion and contraction between different levels of our memory. At the level of pure memory, which is most remote from action, we have memories at their most expanded, whereby the particularity of different experiences is apparent. As we contract memory towards a point, we move from particularity to generality, until we arrive at the point of the present itself, where, while the whole is still present, it is manifested in the form of habit where all particularity of experience has been lost. This gives us Bergson’s diagram of the cone of time:

Taken from: http://piratesandrevolutionaries.blogspot.com/2009/07/crystals-of-contraction-memorys.html

In fact, this ‘cone’ is divided up into a whole series of coexisting planes of memory, which represent different degrees of the contraction of the past depending on the requirements of the circumstances which allows us some freedom in our response to stimuli. Thus:

A foreign word, from a foreign language, uttered in my hearing, may make me think of that language in general or of a voice which once pronounced it in a certain way…[these two associations] answer to two different mental dispositions, to two distinct degrees of tension in memory; in the latter case they are nearer to the pure image, in the former, they are more disposed toward immediate response, that is to say, to action. (MM 169)

Bergson’s account of how this process of contraction operates is a little obscure, but he describes it as follows:

[M]emory, laden with the whole of the past, responds to the appeal of the present state by two simultaneous movements, one of translation, by which it moves in its entirety to meet experience, thus contracting more or less, though without dividing, with a view to action; and the other of rotation upon itself, by which it turns towards the situation of the moment, presenting to it the side which may prove to be the most useful. (MM 168-9)


We can now draw some schematic conclusions about what Bergson’s account of memory is going to give us.

  • If the past forms a unity, whereas the present is defined by a sequence of actual experiences, then the past cannot be constituted from the present, just as one can only approximate, rather than actually constitute, a circle with a series of straight lines. They are simply different modes of organisation. If the present cannot produce the past, then the two must coexist. In other words, the past is constituted at the same moment as the present.
  • The past is and the present is not. As Bergson notes, ‘nothing is less than the present moment, if you understand by that the indivisible limit which divides the past from the future. When we think this present is going to be, it exists not yet, and when we think it as existing, it is already past.’ (MM 150) Rather, the past genuinely is, insofar as it contains the totality of what has been made, rather than just the moment of the making of it, to use Bergson’s terms.
  • The reason why we normally take the past not to exist is because consciousness is concerned with action, and therefore orientated towards perception and actual states of affairs. The past as such not only does not interest it, but also is inaccessible to it, as the structure of the past is different in kind to that of perception. Now, this point will become important for Deleuze, because if the past is to a degree constitutive of the present (and even, as Bergson notes, constitutive of our characters), but both different in kind from it and inaccessible to consciousness, then it provides a prime candidate for the kind of passive synthesis which Deleuze wants to use to escape the Kantian paradigm.
  • Finally, and once again somewhat obscurely, the recollection to the past involves a ‘leap’ in Deleuze’s terms. ‘We detach ourselves from the present, in order to replace ourselves, first, in the past in general, then, in a certain region of the past.’ (MM 134) Without recollection involving a movement away from activity and hence the present, it couldn’t dissociate recollections from present concerns. Also, if consciousness didn’t relate to something which contained a moment of virtuality within it, it couldn’t see the past as past – it would be indistinguishable from perception.

That’s all I want to look at today. Next week, I want to show how Deleuze uses this Bergsonian model of memory in order to provide a transcendental account of experience which doesn’t rely on active synthesis. This will rely on the essential feature of Bergson’s account – that pure memory is unconscious, and thus cannot be coordinated in terms of an active synthesis.

Lecture Eleven – Kant, the Transcendental Deduction, and Passive Synthesis

We spent last term looking at some of the reasons why Deleuze believes that our understanding of the world needs to be modelled on a concept of difference rather than identity. This week, I want to set up the groundwork for looking at chapter two of Difference and Repetition. At the end of last term, we looked briefly at Merleau-Ponty’s account of how it is that we develop the notion of a self-identical object as the source of our perceptual experience. Merleau-Ponty claimed that we posit the ‘memory of the world’ which explains the interrelation of our various perspectives on objects. Once we have a notion of the object from all possible perspectives, our own perspective becomes inessential to our understanding of the object. We then posit a self-identical object as the ground for our perceptions of it. This week, I want to look at one of the most important sections in the history of western philosophy: Kant’s transcendental deduction. Here, Kant is concerned with showing how our categories of thought are able to relate to intuition, and through this, how we are able to make judgements about the material world. As such, the transcendental deduction draws together a number of themes which we explored last term: the notion of representation, the subject, judgement, and the relation between these concepts. It also introduces several new notions. Kant’s account is premised on an understanding of synthesis is conducted by an agent. If concepts are able to apply to the world, it is because the world is constituted by the subject. Now, it is because synthesis is an activity carried out by a subject, and because this synthesis is carried out by the understanding, that we are able to talk about the world using subject-predicate judgements. Now, if Deleuze is going to move away from an understanding of the world in terms of subjects and properties, then he needs to provide an alternative account of the constitution of the world of objects to that which Kant provides. At the end of the lecture, I want to talk a little about how this alternative conception emerges from recognising that there may be alternative ways of conceiving of the notion of synthesis to that which Kant provides.

The Transcendental Deduction

                  The transcendental deduction is really the heart of Kant’s First Critique, and concerns the fundamental question of how judgement is able to be brought into accord with the world. Now, in a sense, this is one of the classical problems that we encounter in both the rationalist and empiricist traditions. As well as Hume’s scepticism about causality, Hume also presented a sceptical argument against our knowledge of the external world. How do we know that our internal representations of things accord with the things themselves? Well, the only way to know this for sure would be to compare our representations with the things that they are representations of. But the difficulty is that we can only ever have access to one of the terms of this comparison. We can never therefore know if our knowledge of objects accords with the objects themselves if Hume is correct. In fact, Kant generalises this point:

Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori by means of concepts have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. (CPR B xvi)

What does it mean to say that objects conform to our knowledge of them? Essentially, Kant is going to claim that the reason that we can be sure that our representations of things conform to them is because the same faculties of our minds which produce these representations on another level constitute the objects of those representations. So, for instance, in the first part of the critique of pure reason, Kant attempts to justify our faith in geometry by showing that space must be something that we ourselves impose upon the world. As we organise external objects spatially, we know that geometry, which is the science of this mode of organisation, must necessarily correspond to the structure of the external world.

                  Now, even though objects conform to our knowledge of them, this does not mean that we have something like a radical idealism. While we may organise what is given to us, there is still a given. Our relation to space and time is essentially receptive, while our cognitive faculties are active. This brings us to the central problem of the critique. We already saw in relation to the argument from incongruous counterparts last term that there was a fundamental difference between sensibility (intuition in Kant’s terms) and the understanding (the idea of ‘handedness’ could not be understood unless we took space to be fundamentally non-conceptual). Deleuze puts the problem as follows:

We have seen that [Kant] rejected the idea of a pre-established harmony between subject and object; substituting the principle of a necessary submission of the object to the subject itself. But does he not once again come up with the idea of harmony, simply transposed to the level of faculties of the subject which differ in nature? (KCP 19)

In other words, although the fact that we constitute objects and our representations of them allows us to solve Hume’s problem of the external world, Kant has introduced a new, internal problem. How can two faculties which are different in kind relate to each other? Kant himself raises this difficulty. He begins by claiming that knowledge involves some kind of synthesis. That is, to make a statement involves bringing together different concepts into a unity. He then notes that ‘appearances might very well be so constituted that the understanding should not find them to be in accordance with the conditions of its unity.’ (CPR A90/B123) That is, there may be nothing in intuition which the understanding can apply itself to.

                  Kant’s solution to this difficulty involves arguing that conceptual thought plays a necessary role in experience. We can draw a distinction between perception, which simply involves us being presented with appearances, and experience. Kant argues that the difference between perception and experience is that whereas perception simply requires intuition, experience also involves the notion that we experience a world of objects. Now, when we look at our experience of the world, Kant argues that the notion of an object is not directly given in intuition. Rather, our experience of a world made up of things, rather than, for instance, sense-data (although the term sense-data is not really appropriate for Kant) presupposes a conception of an object, or object-hood. The question of the deduction can therefore be reformulated as, what is it that allows us to experience a world of objects, rather than simply appearances? The claim that the transcendental deduction makes is that it is the understanding, which is the faculty of concepts (or, as we shall see, rules) which gives us the concept of an object. As such, the understanding plays a necessary role in experience, and the gap between the different faculties has been bridged:

The question now arises whether a priori concepts do not also serve as antecedent conditions under which alone anything can be, if not intuited, yet thought as object in general. In that case all empirical knowledge of objects would necessarily conform to such concepts, because only as thus presupposing them is anything possible as object of experience. (CRP A93/B126)

In this lecture, I want to deal with the A-Deduction, which Kant included in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant later claims that this is a subjective deduction, as it explains the relation of the categories to intuition in terms of the acts of intuition on the part of the subject. Kant replaces this deduction which a more formal objective deduction in the second edition of the Critique. While the argument of the second edition is presented rather differently, the A-deduction allows us to test an important claim that Deleuze will make about Kant, namely that the transcendental merely doubles empirical psychology, and so fails to provide a true explanation of the ground of judgement:

Kant traces the so-called transcendental structures from the empirical acts of psychological consciousness: the transcendental synthesis of apprehension is directly induced from an empirical apprehension, and so on. In order to hide this all too obvious procedure, Kant suppressed this text in the second edition. Although it is better hidden, the tracing method, with all its “psychologism”, nevertheless subsists. (DR 171)

Kant’s Three Syntheses of Time

                  Kant’s claim is that experience rests on a threefold synthesis, which in turn requires us to posit a subject and an object, leading us to introduce the categories, as rules which relate to the constitution of objects. So, what are the conditions for experience?

The first condition is that what Kant calls a ‘synthesis of apprehension’ is performed by intuition, the faculty responsible for giving us the spatial and temporal manifolds that experience takes place in. Now, although everything which we experience in the external world occurs in space, Kant here concentrates on time, as he claims that even non-spatial phenomena, such as mental states occupy a position in time. Thus, if he can ultimately show that the categories are responsible for temporal experience, he will have shown that the categories are responsible for all experience. This condition relates to our understanding of experience as essentially temporal and involving a manifold, or diversity of different moments. Now, in order for us to be able to experience the world, we have to somehow be able to order these experiences. That means that we have to apprehend the different temporal moments of experience as forming a sequence of moments. Without some kind of unifying synthesis of time on our part, all we would encounter is a series of moments without relation to one another. In such a situation, experience would simply be impossible. This first synthesis therefore ‘[runs] through and [holds] together’ (CPR A99) the various moments of time in order to allow us to be presented with a unified temporal framework. It’s worth pointing out that even if what is given to us is a well ordered temporal sequence, we still need some kind of synthesis on the part of the subject to take up this temporal sequence and recognise it as well ordered.

                  In order for the synthesis of apprehension to be possible, we need a further synthesis. The synthesis of apprehension allows us to recognise different moments as belonging to the same temporal sequence. Kant notes that we often make use of these kinds of relations in our imagination’s use of associative principles, particularly in the contraction of habits. So, if we see a pattern, or hear a melody often enough, we come to expect the next sign, or musical note. Now, this is an empirical synthesis on the part of our imagination, to the extent that our particular habits themselves are not conditions for the possibility of experience. The possibility of contracting a habit does imply a transcendental synthesis on the part of the subject, however:

If cinnabar were sometimes red, sometimes black, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, if a man changed sometimes into this, sometimes into that animal form, if the country on the longest day were sometimes covered with fruit, sometimes with ice and snow, my empirical imagination would never find opportunity when representing red colour to bring to mind heavy cinnabar. (CPR A100-101)

This synthesis is the synthesis of production in the imagination. If we turn to Kant’s example of drawing a line, we can see what this deeper synthesis is. In order for there to be the possibility of associating representations, they have to be in themselves associable. That is, they must have an ‘affinity’ (A 122) to one another. That is, as well as being brought together, as the first synthesis shows, they must be related to one another in such a way that they have some coherence to each other. If I draw a line in thought, to use Kant’s example, it must be the case that I can reproduce the previous moments as being contiguous with the present one in order for the thought to be complete.

                  This synthesis in turn implies a third synthesis. In order to have experience, we don’t just need to have an affinity between different moments of experience, but these different moments of experience need to be related to one another as a unity for consciousness. In the (B) deduction, Kant puts this point as follows:

It must be possible for the ‘I think’ to accompany all our representations; for otherwise something would be represented in me that couldn’t be thought at all, and that is equivalent to saying that the representation would be impossible, or at least would be nothing to me. (B131-2)

Now, when we think of a process such as listening to a melody, all of the different notes of the melody need to be related to the same consciousness, and recognised as belonging to the same consciousness. Otherwise, we would have a sequence of moments, rather than the unity of a melody. Likewise, the process of counting requires us to recognise that each individual number relates to a unified notion of the total. Otherwise, we would simply have a series of moments. Now, if we think of the process of counting, or listening to a melody, then neither the total nor the melody itself is given as an appearance. If we introspect, then all we have is a series of notes in the latter case, or a procession of numbers in the former.

                  We can make a similar claim about the relationship between the different moments of our experience of external objects. When we walk around a building, we are given a series of perspectives on it. Now, a condition of seeing these different perspectives as being perspectives of the same building is that I am able to relate them together as being my perceptions of the building. Otherwise, we would simply have a series of fragmentary appearances. We can go further than this, and say that without the unity of consciousness we would not just see appearances of different buildings. We would simply just see a series of appearances without any kind of unity – they wouldn’t relate to anything.

                  So material objects unite appearance in the same way that the melody unites the individual notes that relate to it. In a similar way, the notion of a material object is not itself discovered in experience. Rather, it is that which allows a series of appearances to be conceived as forming a unity. Now, this is a key point. Kant has claimed that in order for experience (that is, a relation to the world that gives us knowledge, rather than just sensation or appearances) to be possible, we need to be able to see appearances as belonging to the same subject. Now, in order for this to be the case, they need to exhibit some kind of unity. It is the concept of the object that gives all of these moments of appearance a unity, as it is by seeing all moments of appearance as referring to an underlying object that we are able to unify them. The concept of the object thus makes the unity of consciousness possible.

The Nature of the Transcendental Unity of Apperception and the Transcendental Object

If the self is going to be able to unify experience, then we need to ask what Kant thinks this self is. Earlier on, I said that Kant takes as fundamental that ‘I think’ must be able to accompany all of our representations. It’s a rather obvious fact that most of the time, we do not go around explicitly referring to ourselves (‘I see a building’, ‘I am counting’, etc.), but rather we tend to be directly engaged with the world (‘there is a building’, ‘the total is x’). The ‘I think’ cannot therefore be the foundation of experience, as it is not always present, but is rather a mark that the kind of synthesis which gives unity to our representations has taken place. Similarly, if we introspect, we do not find a self, but rather simply a series of related impressions – ‘no fixed and abiding self can present itself in this flux of inner appearances.’ (A 107) The situation here is rather like the case of the imagination. The fact that we were able to discover affinities between appearances presupposed a deeper synthesis whereby the imagination produced these affinities. Here it is the case that the ‘I think’ is made possible by a prior, transcendental synthesis.

This condition which makes possible the ‘I think’ has what appears to be a faintly paradoxical nature in Kant’s account. It is transcendental because it is a condition of the possibility of experience. As such, it doesn’t occur in experience itself. This means that it is not something that we can have knowledge of, but something we must presuppose as a foundation for experience. If we return to an earlier distinction Kant made between perception and experience, we can see that the situation is even more extreme. Experience is related to objects that we can make judgements about, rather than perception which just gives us a manifold of appearances. If the transcendental unity of apperception, as Kant calls it, is prior to experience, then it is also not the kind of thing we can make judgements about. While we can say, following Descartes, that ‘I think, therefore I am’, we cannot say what this ‘I am’ consists in. Much like with Aristotle, substance is a category, and as the transcendental unity of apperception is supposed to be the ground for our use of the categories, we cannot even judge the self to be a substance. Nevertheless, Kant’s deduction shows that we need to posit some such subjective unity if experience is going to be possible.

We can say something similar about the object. It cannot be given in experience, and rather is a condition for the possibility of experience. It is really simply a way of allowing the various appearances that are given to us to be united in a rule-governed manner. Essentially, it allows appearances to refer to something beyond themselves, and thus, like musical notes that refer beyond themselves to a melody, to form the kind of unity that we need in order to be able to apply the ‘I think’ to our representations.

The conclusion of this, therefore, is that both a transcendental subject and a transcendental object are necessary for Kant in order for us to move from perception to experience. If these are necessary, then one further question we need to ask is, what makes possible the subject and object?

The Grounds of the Transcendental Unity of Apperception and the Transcendental Object

It turns out that the subject and the object determine each other reciprocally. First, the subject makes the object possible. For representations to stand in relation to objects, it is necessary that the representations themselves have a certain unity. This unity is provided by the transcendental unity of apperception, which allows the ‘I think’ to accompany all of our representations. As subjects unify representations, they consequently ground the transcendental object, which is simply this formal unity of representations. The subject in turn is grounded by the object, since through the synthetic nature of the manifold it comes to know itself as a subject, and as that which synthesises the manifold. As we have argued, Kant cannot know the self as substantive, since it is not given in intuition, being a bare unity. Therefore, it is necessary for the subject to ground itself through some other means. In this case, the manifold, which is a synthetic unity, gives us this grounding, since it appears as the result of an act of the subject. If the subject were passive in relation to the representations which come before it, the subject would find itself unable to draw apart from those representations. Without the notion of an object, there can be no distinction between a representation and an object, and without this distinction, the subject would be unable to know representations as representations. They would simply “crowd in upon the soul” (CPR, A111). The concept of an object allows the subject to recognise representations as representations of the object, and thus to distinguish itself from them. Thus the subject becomes aware of himself through the unification of representations into an object, through his recognition of himself as a spontaneous consciousness. The subject therefore makes the object possible for Kant, and the object makes the subject possible. This means that the subject necessarily relates to something beyond its own empirical representations, to a world of objects, even though the form of these objects must be generated by the subject itself.

The Resolution of Kant’s Dilemma

                  We can now return to our initial question. How does Kant show that the faculties can be related to one another? Well, for experience to be possible, the subject needs to synthesise appearances into objective unities. How is it able to do this? The categories give us the essential characteristics of what it is for something to be an object (to be a substance, to have properties, etc.), and so it makes sense for the categories of the understanding to provide the rules by which the synthesis takes place. Thus we have a situation whereby appearances are synthesised into experience by relating them to the notion of an object, and in order to relate appearances to the notion of an object, we need rules governing objects in general, and these are the categories.

The Interrelation of Judgement, Objectivity, and Synthesis

                  Kant’s account is important because it shows the interrelation between several concepts which we saw Deleuze as opposed to last term. Kant essentially shows that the notions of objecthood, judgement and synthesis are all interconnected. Because we see experience as being about a subject relating to an object, we are forced to invoke the concept of judgement. Now, given that all of these concepts reciprocally imply one another, how can we develop the kind of sub-representational account that Deleuze is looking for? Deleuze’s response, as we shall see will centre on the concept of synthesis which is driving this account. As I mentioned earlier, Deleuze’s claim is that Kant has essentially taken a psychological account of what it is for the temporal world to emerge from us, and reiterated it at a transcendental level. Now conscious synthesis takes the form of a judgement. When I count, or bring together the moments of a judgement (‘the table is red’), it is me who actively relates these representations to one another. In a sense, the spontaneity of my ego is what holds together the passive determinations, ‘table’ and ‘redness’. By using this model, Kant ties the notion of synthesis to the notion of consciousness, and hence any form of synthesis that is not ultimately governed by judgement. Deleuze’s approach is therefore going to be to try to provide an alternative account of the synthesis of time which does not rely on this sharp divide between the activity of consciousness and the passivity of the given:

It is impossible to maintain the Kantian distribution, which amounts to a supreme effort to save the world of representation: here, synthesis is understood as active and as giving rise to a new form of identity in the I, while passivity is understood as simple receptivity without synthesis. (DR 109)

In doing so, he will try to show how our experience is also the result of syntheses which occur prior to consciousness on our part, and hence prior to the imposition of the structure of judgement. Providing an account of this kind is going to be the primary focus of chapter two.