Lecture Notes


Difference and Repetition, Chapter Two Lectures

I’ve included my lectures on chapter two of Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition below. I gave these lectures some years ago at Manchester Metropolitan University, and they formed the basis for work on that chapter in my guide to Difference and Repetition. That chapter tidies up these lectures, and corrects a number of interpretive errors, but also involved cutting out a lot of the detail of Deleuze’s argument.

Lecture Twenty: Conclusions


                  For this final lecture, I want to summarise some of the results of Deleuze’s investigations in the first two chapters of Difference and Repetition before presenting some of the themes that will occupy Deleuze in the later chapters of the text. We have covered a fair bit of ground during the course, but there are still some outstanding questions that need to be answered. First, given the possibility of a philosophy of difference, why is it that philosophers have previously constructed their philosophies on the basis of a concept of identity? Second, Deleuze makes it clear that difference cannot be understood for him on the basis of negation, so the question is, how do we understand difference without negation? A question that follows from this is, in what way does the notion of difference actually provide an explanation of phenomena? Finally, I want to look at the question of intensity and the phenomenal world. Deleuze has argued that the extensive world is understood as grounded in intensity. As we saw last week, Deleuze also privileges the perspectivism of the simulacrum over the objectivity of the icon. This raises the question of how different perspectives can be generated from a field of intensive difference (in other words, is there a synthesis of space that parallels the synthesis of time in chapter two of Difference and Repetition?).

Deleuze’s Results

                  In providing a brief summary of the first half of Difference and Repetition, the place to begin, I think, is to present the problems, or perhaps symptoms is a better word, which lead Deleuze to put forward his own metaphysics. I think we can see Deleuze’s project as responding to four specific challenges to a philosophy built upon identity in the first part of DR. These problems are:

  • The Underdetermination of resemblance

This difficulty emerges when we try to present an account of the law that operates purely in terms of resemblance, that is, in terms of the universal and the particular. When we want to show that something operates according to a given law, we are faced with a problem. As Deleuze notes, ‘everything reacts on everything else, and everything resembles everything else.’ (DR 3) In that sense, we need some kind of criterion by which to select which objects a law will range over. If we take law (determination by particulars and universals) to be completely determinative of the world, then there is nothing that will allow us to decide what are ‘natural joints’ of the world, and what are arbitrary connections. The same problem emerges in chapter two of Difference and Repetition: if memory is defined purely in terms of actuality as a passed present, why does recollection bring this memory to the fore rather than that one, given that they are all alike in some way and different in some way?

  • The exception to the law

The second problem is provided by analyses such as Kierkegaard’s. The figure of Abraham, for instance, simply falls outside of the law, and so cannot be adequately characterised by an analysis in terms of the universal and the particular. Abraham, from the perspective of the moral law, should be seen as a murderer, but he is also the champion of faith: ‘Yet no one is as great as Abraham; who is able to understand him?’ (FT, 48) We could relate this to Kant’s argument from incongruent counterparts: even if we can provide a complete list of the conceptual relations of a glove, we could still not completely determine it – the complete list does not determine whether it is left or right handed.

  • The inexplicability of repetition

On this basis, we can see that there is a third problem. Repetition obviously occurs – we see it all the time, but yet we cannot provide a coherent conceptual explanation of it. Either the second object is the same as the first object, but then there is no repetition, as the two cases are indiscernible, or it differs, in which case we once again do not have a true repetition,

  • The equivocity of judgement

The big problem that we dealt with last term was the problem of the equivocal nature of judgement. If we describe the world in terms of subjects and predicates, then we seem to be forced to posit a fundamental distinction between substances and properties. Now, this distinction between different (and incommensurate) types of being is not in itself a criticism, but it does go against our intuitions that the world is constituted of one kind of ‘stuff’.

  • The limited conception of synthesis

Finally, taking judgement to be central to the organisation of the world presents a problem, in that it seems that creatures that are not capable of forming judgements about the world are still able to inhabit the world, and ‘make sense’ of it. In the case of Kant, this problem shows itself by the fact that Kant attempts to explain the notion of habit through judgement, rather than realising that habit is the broader phenomenon exhibited by creatures not capable of judging.

As we have seen, Deleuze’s response to these problems involved showing the strong connection between an equivocal ontology, and a concept of difference which was subordinated to identity. Deleuze’s project in the first part of Difference and Repetition can therefore be seen to revolve around generating an alternative conception of difference which does not function extensively, but rather intensively (the difference between Aquinas’ distinction of the finite and infinite, and Scotus’ distinction, for instance). Deleuze’s characterisation of intensive difference basically sees it as operating on the level of a quasi-Spinozist substance. Given that there we do not relate to substance directly, and that there are two different ways of understanding the determinations of substance, either through intensive or extensive difference, Deleuze’s project involves a large genealogical component. The difficulty is deciding whether a given entity is grounded in difference or identity, or in Deleuze’s terms, whether it operates according to a sedentary or a nomadic distribution. As we have seen in the last few sessions, Deleuze sees this genealogical project as operating according to an ‘inverted Platonism’, whereby difference is selected according to a myth, the myth of the Eternal Return. This philosophical schema led to the following answers to the problems with representation:

In place of a conception of synthesis based on notions of a subject and an object (the Kantian notion of synthesis), Deleuze developed a concept of passive synthesis that constituted centres of subjectivity rather that emanating from them. As passive synthesis was pre-predicative, it explained how habits were contracted without relying on the ‘higher’ form of synthesis defined by judgement. This in turn allowed us to see why judgement appears to be such a successful way of characterising the world (it is a surface effect of a deeper process), while also explaining why an extra element was needed to explain why judgement or law was able to operate. Repetition therefore becomes, not the bare repetition of a state of affairs, but rather the play of the same intensive differences in difference situations.

Further Questions for Difference and Repetition

I now want to briefly go through what occurs in the rest of the book. Apologies for the rather schematic nature of these comments.

The Image of Thought and Representation as Transcendental Illusion (Chapter 3)

Chapter three of Difference and Repetition deals with what Deleuze calls the ‘Image of Thought’. The main questions which Deleuze deals with in this chapter is, I think, why is it that thinking does not naturally develop the kind of account of the world which Deleuze has put forward, and why does it remain caught in an understanding of the world in terms of judgement? To sketch Deleuze’s answer to this question, we can begin by noting that when thinking goes wrong, this is normally because of assumptions which underlie our thinking which are false. For instance, Aristotle argued that the Earth had to be stationary, because if it were in motion would be left behind by the Earth once they left the ground. Now this argument is false because Aristotle falsely assumes that the motion of the birds should be understood in relation to an absolute frame of reference, whereas in fact, the motion of the bird can be understood as relative to the motion of the Earth. If it were assumptions that led one to ‘go wrong’ in one’s reasoning, then something like Descartes’ model of philosophical enquiry would be appropriate. That is, one should strive to remove all assumptions from one’s thinking through the method of doubt. If one only reasoned from absolutely certain assumptions, one could not go wrong: ‘reason now leads me to think that I should hold back my assent from opinions that are not completely certain and indubitable just as carefully as I do from those which are patently false’ (Descartes, 1996, p. 12). What is important about this move by Descartes is that it is reason itself which instigates a method of doubt. Whereas classical doubt often related various faculties to each other in order to undermine all of their claims to primacy in the search for truth, Descartes installs reason as the arbiter of the process of doubt itself. The aim of methodological doubt is therefore to create a space for reason to conduct its enquiries into the nature of the world, as ‘deduction of one thing from another can never be performed wrongly by an intellect which is in the least degree rational’ (Descartes, 1985a, p. 12). If the intellect is incapable of error, however, we have the difficulty of explaining how error can and does occur. Descartes’ solution to this central problem of his method is to situate error in the relations between the faculties. In the Meditations, it is the mismatch between the large domain of the will, which has no concern over truth, and the smaller domain of reason which leads to error. Likewise, in the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Descartes writes, ‘while it is the intellect alone which is capable of knowledge [scientia], it can be helped or hindered by three other faculties, viz, imagination, sense-perception, and memory’ (Descartes, 1985a, p. 32).

                  Deleuze instead takes up Kant’s radical suggestion that reason itself is subject to internal illusions that lead it to go astray. That is, that reason itself is responsible for thought ‘going wrong’. Kant’s claim emerges from the fact it is ‘set as a task’ (Kant, 1929, A498/B526) to understand empirical phenomena as a totality, as ‘human reason is by nature architectonic.’ (Kant, 1929, A474/B502) It does this by determining the conditions that lead to a particular phenomenon arising. The difficulty is that the totality of conditions cannot be given, as not all of the conditions for empirical phenomena are themselves empirical (some of the conditions will be transcendental, or will derive from the noumenal nature of things prior to our imposition of space and time on them). So reason takes what is given as a legitimate task, the systematisation of knowledge, but it makes the false assumption that because its task is to understand empirical phenomena as a totality, such a totality can actually be given. Rather, the idea that knowledge can be given as a totality is an imaginary focal point that allows the unending and incompletable process of systematising knowledge to proceed:

This is an illusion which can no more be prevented than we can prevent the sea appearing higher at the horizon than at the shore, since we see it through higher light rays; or to cite a still better example, than the astronomer can prevent the moon from appearing larger at its rising, although he is not deceived by this illusion. (Kant, 1929, A297/B355)

This is what is known as a ‘transcendental illusion’, and explains why reason sometimes falls into contradictions when, for instance, it tries to determine whether the universe has a beginning in time, or is eternal. Neither option can be definitively proved, because verifying one or other of the hypotheses would require us going beyond the given. In the sense that reason holds all conditions of phenomena to be in principle accessible to it, it is therefore subject to error, not in the Cartesian sense of external interference or false assumptions, but according to its very nature. Deleuze’s claim will similarly be that the failure of representation is that its very structure contains within it the transcendental illusion that everything is susceptible to representation. In fact, the domain of representation is limited to actuality (in fact, it is further limited than this, but determining exactly why would draw us into some rather tangential issues), as it is not able to adequately represent the virtual.

Difference without negation/the structure of the Idea (Chapter 4)

The central questions which I take to be addressed in chapter four of Difference and Repetition are, how can we develop a positive account of intensive difference, and how does this account of difference serve as an explanatory principle? Deleuze here talks about the Idea as the way in which we characterise intensive difference, and uses the calculus to provide an example of what a difference that isn’t understood in terms of spatial separation might look like. Basically, the differential calculus allows us to determine the gradient of a line. Now, with a straight line, the gradient is the same along the whole length of a line, so we can determine the gradient by simply seeing how much it rises or falls along a given stretch. That is, on a graph, we would divide the increase in height on the y axis by the distance that increase takes place over: y/x. So if a line rises on the y axis by six units as over a two unit stretch of the x axis, the gradient is (6/2) = 3. If we want to determine the gradient of a curved line, the situation is more complex, however, because what makes a curve a curve is the fact that the gradient of the line is constantly changing. This means that we cannot simply determine the gradient by drawing a line between two points, because this would give us the average gradient, not the gradient itself. Leibniz’s solution to this problem was to determine the gradient by assuming that the distance between the two points was infinitesimal (hence the term, infinitesimal calculus). While this solved the problem de facto, it didn’t solve the justificatory problem of why the calculus works, as we are still determining the gradient on the basis of an average between two points (albeit two points infinitesimally close to one another). The difficulty, is, in a sense, that with a curve, we are attempting to determine the gradient of a point, but a gradient is traditionally understood as a ratio between two distances. Deleuze’s solution (which is somewhat similar to Newton’s) is to posit the difference between the two elements of the ratio as intensive. Thus, while they do truly allow us to determine the gradient at a given point of a curve, the differential ratio, (dy/dx) cannot be represented extensively – each of the elements, dy and dx are equal to 0, but when put into a ratio form, they give us a determinate gradient for the point. For this reason, Deleuze claims that ‘just as we oppose difference in itself to negativity, so we oppose dx to not-A, the symbol of difference to that of contradiction.’ (DR 217)

Deleuze introduces the notion of the Idea as what is supposed to provide an explanation of phenomena without relying on simply repeating the structure of these phenomena at a higher level. So, for instance, Deleuze uses it to oppose the Kantian style of explanation that we looked at in chapter two of DR where the operations of the empirical imagination were explained by positing a transcendental imagination in the case of habit. Deleuze sets up three criteria that the Idea must meet:

  • ‘The elements of the multiplicity [of the Idea] must have neither sensible form nor conceptual signification, nor therefore any assignable function.’ (DR 231)

If it is going to explain actual states of affairs, it has to be different in kind from them, otherwise the explanation will be tautologous.

  • ‘These elements must in effect be determined, but reciprocally, by reciprocal relations which allow no independence whatsoever to subsist.’

If the Idea is going to be different in kind from states of affairs, it cannot be made up of elements which maintain themselves through self-identity. Rather, the being of the elements is purely defined by their relations to other elements.

  • ‘A multiple ideal connection, a differential relation, must be actualised in diverse spatiotemporal relationships.’

If the Idea is going to explain situations, then clearly it cannot apply to just one situation – it has to have a greater degree of generality in order to allow us to select in what way given phenomena are alike and dissimilar.

We can see how this works by looking at one of Deleuze’s examples: the use of homologies in biology. For traditional (and pre-evolutionary) comparative anatomy, the names of the parts of animals are, to a certain extent, derived analogically with other animals, archetypally with man. When the function or form of the parts differ from those of man, however, a different term must be assigned to the part in question. Thus, although there is a similarity between the fins of a fish and the arm of man, on a teleological account, the functional and structural differences mean that different terms must be applied to each. Now, because an organism was defined as a unity of these parts defined by their functional roles, the transformation of species became problematic. This is because deviations in the structure of the parts had to be understood as accompanied by a reduction in functional performance. In effect, deviation could only be understood as lacking the functional unity of the species in question (as deformity).

                  So we have a situation in which a conceptual understanding does not cut reality at the joints, hence preventing us from properly understanding a key natural phenomenon – evolution. Now, one of the key conceptual developments that made the theory of evolution possible was Geoffroy St. Hillaire’s positing of homologies between different parts of organisms. That is, rather than seeing an organism as defined by the form or function of parts, Geoffroy saw it as defined by the relations between parts. By focusing on relations rather than functions, Geoffroy was able to provide an account that explains one of the key results of evolutionary theory, that the same structure can change its function in different organisms (fins becoming arms, for instance). Now Geoffory didn’t relate organisms to one another directly to generate his account of homologies, but rather posited a transcendental structure of an ideal organism that other organisms were instantiations of (he called his approach ‘transcendental anatomy’).

Deleuze’s interpretation of Geoffroy’s work rests on what he calls Geoffroy’s dream, ‘to be the Newton of the infinitely small, to discover ‘the world of details’ or ‘very short distance’ ideal connections beneath the cruder play of sensible and conceptual differences and resemblances’ (DR, 185). He argues that what Geoffroy is aiming at with his emphasis on connections is a field of differential elements (the ideal correlates of the bones) forming specific types of relations (the connections which are central to Geoffroy’s account). On this basis, Deleuze claims that Geoffroy’s transcendental anatomy functions like a Deleuzian Idea, with its three characteristics. The elements of the Idea ‘must have neither sensible form nor conceptual signification,’ and transcendental anatomy fulfils this requirement due to the fact that it is essentially non-metric and topological, therefore differing from the actual structures which express it. Second, ‘these elements must be determined reciprocally,’ which in the case of the unity of composition, Deleuze takes to mean that what is central is not the bones themselves, but the connections they hold with other bones. Third, ‘a multiple ideal connection, a differential relation, must be actualised in diverse spatio-temporal relationships, at the same time as its elements are actually incarnated in a variety of terms and forms.’ emphasises that homologies do not exist directly between actual terms, ‘but are understood as the actualisation of an essence, in accordance with reasons and at speeds determined by the environment, with accelerations and interruptions’ (DR, 184). That is, we note a homology by recognising that the actual parts of both organisms are actualisations of the same transcendental essence, the unity of composition, rather than by a direct correlation of actual terms, as in comparative anatomy. The Idea in this case therefore allows us to determine in what way diverse phenomena are related to one another.

Depth and Intensity (Chapter 5)

I don’t want to go into much detail about the final chapter, but its main concern is to explain how we can understand perspectivism without these perspectives being correlated with a central identity that generates them. Now, in this chapter, Deleuze draws upon a central distinction that Merleau-Ponty makes in the Phenomenology of Perception, and his last published work, Eye and Mind. The reason why we might consider perspectives to be related to an identity which generates them is because we normally see the dimensions of a perspective as interchangeable. So we feel that what is depth from one perspective will be seen as width from another. So even though objects obscure one another from our own perspective, ‘another man, situated elsewhere – or better, God, who is everywhere – could penetrate [the objects] hiding place and see them openly deployed’ (EM, 173). Different perspectives are therefore situated within a common space that co-ordinates them. In this case, each perspective can be explained purely in terms of extensity. Deleuze claims rather that depth therefore forms the generative space from which extensive space is generated. Following Merleau-Ponty once again, in his claim that ‘a first dimension which contains all the others is no longer a dimension’ (EM, 180), Deleuze argues that ‘once depth is grasped as an extensive quantity, it belongs to engendered extensity, and ceases to include in itself its own heterogeneity in relation to the other two’ (DR, 229). In this sense, for Deleuze, we see intensity, rather than extension as generative of perspective in relation to a field of depth. We can compare these two approaches by noting the two different ways in which perspective has been represented in art. In the renaissance, perspective was represented through projective geometry, which essentially involved deforming the scene in such a way as to allow the brain to reconstruct depth information from the two visible dimensions. In modern artists such as Cezanne or Klee, however, we find that depth is constructed through the interplay, and interpenetration, of colour that doesn’t rely on a prior sharply determined geometry of objects or identities. In this sense, in making depth as a field of intensity the ground for perspective, Deleuze takes up Merleau-Ponty’s claim that ‘any theory of painting is a metaphysics.’ (EM, 171)


                  Each of those summaries is, of course, far too short to do justice to Deleuze’s arguments in those chapters, but they do, I hope give an indication of the themes of the rest of the book.

Lecture Nineteen: Plato and Determination


                  Today I want to talk about another figure that Deleuze takes up in his analysis of the history of philosophy: Plato. Plato occupies an ambivalent position in Deleuze’s philosophy, and he claims that ‘the Heraclitean world still growls in Platonism.’ (DR 71) In this respect, the claim that one must ‘overturn’ [renverser] Platonism does not involve a complete repudiation of it. Rather, ‘that this overturning should conserve many Platonic characteristics is not only inevitable but desirable.’ (DR 71) We will turn to Deleuze’s analysis of Plato itself in detail next week, but this week, I want to focus on Plato himself, and particularly on the method of division. The text I want to look at is the Sophist, which presents a dialogue not with Socrates himself, but rather with the stranger, or visitor. The dialogue revolves around the attempt by the stranger to define his notion of the sophist. Socrates begins the dialogue by questioning whether the visitor believes that ‘sophists, statesmen and philosophers make up one kind of thing or two.’ (217a) The visitor then offers a series of possible definitions of the sophist. While much of the dialogue is taken up by an analysis of the forms, and the way in which they relate to one another. This is because the visitor has to explain how the sophist can profess knowledge that seems to be the case, but is not – in other words, how can the sophists knowledge really be about nothing, given that nothing is not, and therefore cannot be a subject that one can relate to. While there is much that is interesting (and relevant) in this analysis, I want to focus instead on the method of division that Plato presents earlier in the dialogue, in order to compare his approach with that of Aristotle. My focus will be on tracing out how this method differs from that of Aristotle, despite the apparent similarity to definition in terms of species and genera. In particular, I want to pick up Deleuze’s claim that ‘Platonic dialectic is neither a dialectic of contradiction nor of contrariety, but a dialectic of rivalry, a dialectic of rivals and suitors.’ (LS 292) In this respect, Plato’s dialectic is seen by Deleuze as closer to the procedure of Nietzsche in the eternal return than to the method of definition found in Aristotle. To see why this is the case, I want to begin by looking at how the visitor in the Sophist goes about determining the nature of the sophist.

Determination and the Method of Division

                  The central theme of the Sophist is the effort by the Eleatic visitor to draw out what exactly a sophist is using the method of division. To provide an example of how this works, the visitor suggests that they use the example of defining an angler, as the fact that an angler is ‘recognizable to everybody’ means that the method itself will be more easily seen. Now, the method of division appears to be very similar to the Aristotelian method which we looked at last term. The visitor begins by noting that the angler is an expert, and dividing expertise into arts of acquisition and arts of production. Acquisition is in turn divided into two categories, taking possession of something, and acquisition by exchange, and taking possession in turn into combat and hunting. We carry on dividing the various groups, between animal hunting and the hunting of the inanimate, animals that swim and animals that live on land, swimmers with wings and swimmers without, and through the various ways in which fish can be hunted. The result of this examination is therefore an account of what an angler is, arrived at through a progressive division of a whole into parts.

                  There are some restrictions on the way in which we divide the whole into different parts. In the Phaedrus, Socrates states that we should ‘cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and not try to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do.’ In this respect, the divisions cannot simply be arbitrary. In the Statesman, the procedure of division goes wrong because the young Socrates has failed to cut up reality at its joints properly. Here, the visitor gives the following general account of how division should occur in order to avoid such errors:

It’s as if someone tried to divide the human race into two and made the cut in the way that most people here carve things up, taking the Greek race away as one, separate from all the rest, and to all the other races together, which are unlimited in number, which don’t mix with one another, and don’t share the same language—calling this collection by the single appellation ‘barbarian’. Because of this single appellation, they expect it to be a single family or class too. Another example would be if someone thought that he was dividing number into two real classes by cutting off the number ten-thousand from all the rest, separating it off as a single class, and in positing a single name for all the rest supposed here too that through getting the name this class too came into existence, a second single one apart from the other. But I imagine the division would be done better, more by real classes and more into two, if one cut number by means of even and odd, and the human race in its turn by means of male and female, and only split off Lydians or Phrygians or anyone else and ranged them against all the rest when one was at a loss as to how to split in such a way that each of the halves split off was simultaneously a real class and a part. (Statesman 262 d-e)

In this sense, we can see that the attempt to define something appears to operate much like the search for essence that Aristotle proposes, where we arrive at the true nature of something through taking what appears to be a genus, and dividing into two classes. By the repetition of this procedure, when applied to one of the species, we gradually ‘home in’ on the species we are attempting to define.

When we turn to the case of the definition of the sophist, however, the situation is not so straightforward. The visitor begins by noting that both the sophist and the angler are hunters, although rather than hunting fish, the sophist hunts men, and rather than hunting by force, the sophist hunts by ‘legal oratory, political oratory and conversation,’ that is, by persuasion. The sophist therefore turns out to be ‘the hunting of rich, prominent young men’ in private for money. This definition, however, turns out not to be a complete account of the sophist, and so the visitor offers another. It is also ‘the expertise of the part of acquisition, exchange, selling, wholesaling, and soul-wholesaling, dealing with words and learning that have to do with virtue.’ (Sophist 224b) The sophist is therefore a merchant of knowledge. He can also be defined as a cleanser of the spirit:

So let it be the cleansing part of the expertise of discriminating things; and let it be marked off as the part of that which concerns souls; and within that if s teaching; and within teaching it’s education. And let’s say that within education, according to the way the discussion has turned now, the refutation of the empty belief in one’s own wisdom is nothing other than our noble sophistry. (Sophist 231b)

This presents us with a problem, as it appears as if none of the definitions provided has been truly adequate to capturing the nature of the sophist. In this sense, it fails as an Aristotelian account of the definition of the individual. When we looked at Aristotle’s account, we saw that definition proceeded along one particular branch of the tree, and so each species had one definition. We cannot determine the essence of the sophist by tracing one line from the genus to the species, however. In fact, we cannot even say that sophisty is one kind of science. The visitor classifies it under the arts of production and the arts of acquisition at different points during his attempt to tie it down. Now, we can begin to explain this fact by noting that sophistry ‘isn’t a trivial sort of expertise, but quite a diverse one’ (223c), and as such it differs from cases such as angling that can be specified by the progressive determination of a single genus. What Plato is offering, therefore, is a more complex form of determination that that which is provided by Aristotle.

The ‘Quilt’ Interpretation of Division

                  Moravcsik, in his Plato and Platonism, provides a reading of this form of determination where he characterises it, in opposition to Aristotle’s ‘tree’ interpretation of division, as a ‘quilt’ interpretation of division. We can begin by noting that even the basic division of art into productive and acquisitive arts is not the only way in which art can be divided. In the Statesman, for instance, Plato divides art as follows:

Visitor: Well then: isn’t it the case that arithmetic and some other sorts of expertise that are akin to it don’t involve any practical actions, but simply provide knowledge?

Young Socrates: That’s so.

Visitor: Whereas for their part the sorts of expertise involved in carpentry and manufacture as a whole have their knowledge as it were naturally bound up with practical actions, and use it to complete those material objects they cause to come into being from not having been before? (Statesman 258d-e)

Art or expertise can therefore also be divided by whether it is purely theoretical, or also contains a practical component. The Sophist provides six different attempts at the definition of the sophist, each of which traces a different path through possible divisions. In his discussion of Plato’s account of division, Aristotle sees this as a fundamental problem, in that Plato has not given the proper difference in these kinds of cases:

Is man an animal or animate? If he assumed animal, he has not deduced it. Again every animal is either terrestrial or aquatic: he assumed terrestrial. And that man is the whole – a terrestrial animal – is not necessary from what he has said, but he assumes this too…For what prevents all this from being true of man yet not making clear what a man is or what it is to be a man? (Posterior Analytics 18-28)

So for Aristotle, the fact that there is more than one possible path to the sophist – that the sophist shows up on more than one branch of the tree, implies that Plato has failed to capture what is essential about the sophist. While the sophist may indeed be in fact a hunter of rich, prominent young men, this is not what he necessarily is in essence.

                  While such a criticism would be appropriate if Plato were dividing according to an arborescent model, such as Aristotle’s, we should note that instead that there is something more like a geometrical model at play in Plato’s approach. What we have is something more like the genus, art, as a space that can be demarcated in a variety of manners which can overlap with one another, rather than the model of man as a collection of individuals that are separated off from others by process of selection. In this way, the addition of alternative potential modes of division does not invalidate the original as not providing the essential determination of the sophist, but allows us to grasp the multifaceted nature of the art of sophistry. Each different definition further cuts down the space in the genus that the sophist occupies, and we thus arrive at a picture of him through the addition of a number of ‘brush strokes’ that together make up a definition. In a sense, what we are presented with here, to use the characteristics found in Deleuze and Guattari’s later thinking, is something like a rhizomatic model of thought – that is, a thought not defined by hierarchy, and a central line, but rather by a kind of flat multiplicity.

The Aim of Plato’s Method of Division

                  Given that Plato is not providing something like a biological taxonomy – the kind of thing we found in Aristotle, the question naturally arises, what is it that Plato is attempting to do in the Sophist? Deleuze claims that Platonic division in no way proposes to determine the species of a genus … rather, it proposes to do so, but superficially, and even ironically, the better to hide under this mask its true secret.’ (DR 72) The answer starts to become clearer when we note the fact that a sophist is a thinker who resembles a philosopher, without actually being one. Similarly, in the Statesman, the Eleatic visitor there defines a statesmanship as ‘knowledge of the collective rearing of human beings.’ (Statesman, 267d) Once we have this definition, we are still faced with a difficulty, however, as it appears that there are a large number of people who fulfil this description: ‘merchants, farmers, millers and bakers’ (Statesman, 267e). Even with a given definition, we have not answered the question at the root of the dialogue. As Deleuze puts it, ‘difference is not between species, between two determinations of a genus, but entirely on one side, within the chosen line of descent.’ (DR 72) What Plato is trying to do, according to Deleuze, is not to define a particular class of individuals, but rather to do something different – to trace the genealogy of the subject in question – to distinguish between the sophist and the philosopher in terms of their origin. The visitor makes this project explicit in the Statesman, where he describes the project of determining statesmanship in the following way:

Visitor: Yes, but there is something else remaining that is still more difficult than this, by reason of its being both more akin to the kingly class, and closer to it, and harder to understand; and we seem to me to be in a situation similar to that of those who refine gold.

Young Socrates: How so?

Visitor: I imagine that these craftsmen also begin by separating out earth, and stones, and many different things; and after these, there remain commingled with the gold those things that are akin to it, precious things and only removable with the use of fire: copper, silver, and sometimes adamant, the removal of which through repeated smelting and testing leaves the ‘unalloyed’ gold that people talk about there for us to see, itself alone by itself.

Young Socrates: Yes, they certainly do say these things happen in this way.

Visitor: Well, it seems that in the same way we have now separated off those things that are different from the expert knowledge of statesmanship, and those that are alien and hostile to it, and that there remain those that are precious and related to it. (Statesman 303d-304a)

How, do we therefore distinguish the statesman from the merchants, farmers, millers and bakers, or Socrates from the sophist? Well, in many dialogues, though ironically, not in the sophist, we have the introduction of a myth. In the Statesman, the visitor introduces the fable of two cosmic eras, that of Cronos, and the present age of Zeus. Each of these gods allows ordered existence to carry on in the world by ensuring that the universe continues to revolve around its circle. By incorporating a myth into the structure of our enquiry, we are able to resolve the question of which of the various contenders is in actual fact the statesman. That is, myth provides an archetype by which to properly separate the pure gold of the statesman from the mixed elements of the other figures. How does it do this? Well, these gods’ governance of the universe provides us with a model by which to assess which of the claimants is the true statesman. When we looked at the notion of time in joint, we saw that Plato argues that the world of appearances is derivative, or secondary to, an atemporal rational structure. The demiurge in that myth created the universe as a ‘moving image of eternity’. Now, the statesman and the true philosophers are both going to be figures who relate to the true ground of the world, the atemporal realm of ideas or forms, rather than the realm of appearances. Obviously, however, a statesman or a philosopher cannot actually be a god, just as they cannot be atemporal, but they can still resemble one. Here, therefore, we find the Platonic view that the world of appearances contains just shadows or copies of real things. Those copies that resemble real things has more reality than those which do not. An important point to note, however, is that there are two ways in which something can be a copy of, or resemble, something else. The visitor sets these two ways out in the Sophist:

Visitor: One type of imitation I see is the art of likeness-making. That’s the one we have whenever someone produces an imitation by keeping to the proportions of length, breadth, and depth of his model, and also by keeping to the appropriate colours of its parts.

Theaetetus: But don’t all imitators try to do that?

Visitor: Not the ones who sculpt or draw very large works. If they reproduced the true proportions of their beautiful subjects, you see, the upper parts would appear smaller than they should, and the lower parts would appear larger, because we see the upper parts from further away and the lower parts from closer. (Sophist, 235d-236a)

Something can therefore resemble the way something is (in which case it is an icon), or just in the way in which sculptors may employ tricks of perspective, it can resemble the way something appears (in which case it is a phantasm). The true statesman resembles the Idea or form of the statesman in the first of these senses, as the form itself cannot be given in appearance, as it is not spatiotemporal. The pretender only resembles the appearance of the form, not the form itself. The problem, therefore, is to distinguish the candidates who bear a true likeness from those which merely appear to. We can now also see why there is no myth in the Sophist. The sophist resembles the forms in the second sense: that is, he presents the appearance of knowledge, which is a resemblance to the philosopher. The philosopher, on the contrary, presents a resemblance to the forms themselves, in that he has knowledge. As the sophist relates himself to appearances, and not to the forms, there is no lineage in him to trace back to the forms, as there is with the statesman. The sophist, rather, is determined by a lesser reality. In this sense, there can be no myth of the sophist, because there is no eternal form that he resembles. Most of the dialogue itself attempts to make this notion of existing but not being a copy of the forms coherent.

                  It is this distinction between different forms of resemblance that Deleuze takes to be the essential feature of Platonism, and is a key distinction for Deleuze’s own early philosophy:

In Chapter I, we suggested that Plato’s thought turned upon a particularly important distinction: that between the original and the image, the model and the copy. The model is supposed to enjoy an originary superior identity (the Idea alone is nothing other than what it is: only Courage is courageous, Piety pious), whereas the copy is judged in terms of a derived internal resemblance… More profoundly, however, the true Platonic distinction lies elsewhere: it is of another nature, not between the original and the image but between two kinds of images [idoles], of which copies [icones] are only the first kind, the other being simulacra [phantasmes]. The model-copy distinction is there only in order to found and apply the copy-simulacra distinction, since the copies are selected, justified and saved in the name of the identity of the model and owing to their internal resemblance to this ideal model. The function of the notion of the model is not to oppose the world of images in its entirety but to select the good images, the icons which resemble from within, and eliminate the bad images or simulacra. (DR 154-5)


                  In what sense, therefore, can Plato be seen as the instigation of representation, but also the point at which representation has not yet properly asserted itself (‘an animal in the process of being tamed’ [DR 71])? Well, when we look at Aristotle, we see that the notion of difference relies on a prior identity. This is what allows different species to be related without simply being ‘other’ to one another. Aristotelian taxonomy therefore presupposes the presence of identity as a ground for differences. Aristotle’s complaint against Plato is that Plato has not properly grounded the notion of division. This is the reason why the determinations he gives (‘man, the terrestrial animal’) are not, according to the Aristotelian account, essential determinations. As we saw, while it appears that Plato is providing a hierarchical taxonomy, in fact, his characterisations specify lines that cut up the world according to its joints. Deleuze makes the following comment on this situation:

The Idea is not yet the concept of an object which submits the world to the requirements of representation, but rather a brute presence which can be invoked in the world only in function of that which is not “representable” in things. (DR 71)

I take Deleuze to mean by this that essence is not yet determined by default according to a categorial scheme that presumes a central identity, but rather has to be given by something that falls outside of the dialectic, that is, by myth. Myth therefore plays an essential role in the Platonic method, and places Plato outside of representation.

                  In making myth central to his philosophical account, Plato resembles Nietzsche, with his myth of the evil demon which grounds the eternal return. We can draw further parallels. In both cases, we have a test of selection that attempts to determine the true grounds of entities. Or Nietzsche, this test was the Eternal Return, which sought to select those entities which were grounded in an ontology of becoming, whereas for Plato, this test selects those entities which can be grounded in the proper realm of being, the forms. In both cases, this test cannot be expressed propositionally, so the eternal return appears in two forms – on the one hand as the thought experiment of the evil demon, and on the other as the story of Zarathustra. For Plato, we instead have the turn to mythology as that which grounds the test of selection. The choice, which for Deleuze is still open in the work of Plato, is therefore whether we take the test as selecting icones, and thereby instituting representation, or as selecting perspective, and phantasma, thus opening up the possibility of a philosophy of difference.

Lecture 18 – Freud and Deleuze, Part Two


                  Last week, we looked at Deleuze’s analysis of the death drive, and his attempts to reinterpret this drive in line with his own philosophy of intensive difference. In order to do this, Freud associated death not with the entropic return to a material state, as we found in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, but with the third synthesis of time (the pure and empty form of time), and consequently, with the Eternal Return. This week, I want to go through Deleuze’s analysis of the structure of Freud’s account more generally. As we shall see, Deleuze’s analysis of Freud mirrors his own analysis of the structure of time, apart from the final synthesis, and there are parallels to both the notions of active and passive synthesis. In this way, we will find that we have two relations to the world that operate in parallel, the first in terms or actual and representational structures, but also a second, which is non-representational, and governed by ‘virtual’ objects, just as we had two presents in the first account of time, the actual present, and the virtual present of the past.

The Pleasure Principle

                  The first thing to note about Deleuze’s characterisation of Freud’s project is that he claims that the concern of Beyond the Pleasure Principle is not ‘the exceptions to this principle, but rather to determine the conditions under which pleasure effectively becomes a principle.’ (DR 120) I bring this up because this highlights an important point about Deleuze’s own project. Deleuze is signalling that Freud’s project, like his own, is a transcendental project, but also that such a project is not concerned with ‘demolishing’ the self, but rather with determining the conditions under which the self emerges. So what Deleuze is giving us is a critique of representation in the Kantian sense, that is, an attempt to determine the limits of representation, rather than to overturn it. As we saw a few weeks ago, Freud defined pleasure as the reduction in excitation of the psychic apparatus. Now, prior to the organising principle of the ego, Deleuze argues that we can see ‘biopsychical life’ as ‘a field of individuation in which differences in intensity are distributed here and there [Ça et là] in the form of excitations.’ (DR 119) Within such biopsychical life, we will, of course, have variations in the level of excitation of the system at various points and at various moments. In this sense, pleasure, as a process, will be operative within the system (the level of excitation will sometimes drop). In this context, Deleuze makes a rather swift (and problematic in English or German) linguistic argument to equate the ‘here and there [Ça et là]’ of biopsychical life with Freud’s id [Ça]. Now, in spite of the problematic nature of the argument, it does seem like a reasonable equation, and it allows us the raise the key question of this section, which is, how does pleasure cease to be a process, in order to become a principle that organises the life of the unconscious? Now, an answer such as ‘pleasure is pleasing’ is tautologous, and misses the point. If we try, as Freud has, to give an account of pleasure that does not already presuppose the existence of a subject who values it, then we have to be able to account for how his value gets attached to this particular biological process in the first place. That is, how a (value neutral) process becomes a principle of organisation and action.

                  Deleuze points out that if pleasure is going to become a principle, there cannot simply be a free flow of excitations. There needs to be some process of binding or annexation of excitation so that excitations can have ‘systematic resolution,’ rather than arbitrarily traversing the life of the organism. So some kind of integration, or organisation is necessary for us to be able to relate pleasure to a principle. Freud himself makes this point in a passage that we have already looked at:

As the drive-impulses all act on our unconscious systems, it is scarcely a new departure to assert that they follow the primary process, and it is also no very great step to identify the primary psychic process with Breuer’s ‘free-flowing’ cathexis, and the secondary one with his ‘annexed’ or ‘tonic’ cathexis. This would then mean that it was the task of the higher echelons of the psychic apparatus to annex excitations originating from the drives and reaching it via the primary process. Any failure of this annexion process would bring about a dysfunction analogous to traumatic neurosis. Only when the annexion has taken place would the pleasure principle (or, once the latter has been duly modified, the reality principle) be able to assert its dominion unhindered. In the meantime, however, the psychic apparatus’s other task of controlling or annexing the excitation would be very much to the fore – not, it is true, in opposition to the pleasure principle, but independently of it, and to some extent quite heedless of it. (BPP 74-5)

The pleasure principle therefore rests on the integration of excitations that are originally unbound. It’s helpful to here note that there are parallels with the first synthesis of time. There, we were dealing with a flux of experience that needed to be contracted into an organised flow of anticipations. In that case, we could not rely on the notion of the self, as the synthesis was precisely what constituted the self. Here, in a similar manner, we have a synthesis not performed by a subject, a passive synthesis, as we are dealing with processes of ‘biopsychical life’ before it has become a system capable of supporting a unified self. Furthermore, Deleuze claims that this process is actually constitutive of a subject:

‘an animal forms an eye for itself by causing scattered and diffuse luminous excitations to be reproduced on a privileged surface of its body. The eye binds light, it is itself a bound light.’ (DR 120)

Deleuze’s point, I think, is also that as the self that is constituted by the integration or contraction of excitations, it simply is these excitations. This gives us the reason why Deleuze calls these contracting egos ‘narcissistic’. What they relate to is, in a sense, themselves, or an image of themselves, in the form of the excitations that they bind. The movement of binding therefore finds satisfaction in a narcissistic relation to its own image (this has some parallels, I think, with Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’). In this sense, the fact that the egos constituted by the binding process are narcissistic parallels the way in which the selves that were contracted habits in the first synthesis of time related not to objects, but to signs. So just as I said that a heartbeat appears as a sign in our world that doesn’t resemble the movement of the heart itself, the binding of excitations constitutes egos that do not relate directly to objects, but to images of themselves.

                  Just as we found with the notion of habit, therefore, we have a series of reversals in our understanding of binding/habit and pleasure. It is not the case that pleasure gives rise to habit, therefore, in the sense that we might talk of repeating something enjoyable, but rather it is the existence of habits that lead to pleasure. In the discussion of habit, Deleuze claimed that habit was only conceived of as reproduction when it was incorporated into a mathematicised ‘temporal space’ by the imagination. Similarly here, it is only by relating pleasure to the past and the future, and instituting the pleasure principle that we are able to see pleasure as operating prior to habit. That is, by talking about ‘pleasure in general’, we introduce the ‘idea of pleasure.’ Once pleasure is not related to a passive synthesis, but is seen as organised in relation to a principle, we have an active synthesis that relates to an ego. The result of this is that the pleasure principle will now be seen as primary, as without some kind of external organising principle, it is impossible to explain how indifferent processes can form a coherent system, and how individual excitations can be related to one another (how habits are formed). On final thing to note is that the objects that binding and the pleasure principle relate to are different. Binding operates on free excitations in order to enable the pleasure principle to relate them together into a system.

                  We can here return to the question of the compulsion to repeat. When we looked at the fort-da game, the attempt to master an excitation was an explanation that Freud looked at, but ultimately rejected. That is, Freud considered that the child may throw the spindle away and then recover it in order to master the trauma of being separated from its mother. As Deleuze writes, ‘binding syntheses cannot be explained by the intention or the effort to master and excitation, even though it may have that effect.’ (DR 121) Now such an explanation rests on a conflations of the two levels of analysis. To the extent that binding brings an excitation within the domain of the pleasure principle, the process of binding (the passive synthesis) is a form of mastery. But insofar as we remain on this level, we do not have anything like an intention, or an effort to master. These notions only come into play when we are dealing with active syntheses, and, I’m guessing, the mathematical conception of time.

The Second Synthesis

                  Is the model of the psyche as it stands adequate? At present, passive synthesis involves the binding of excitations that occur within the biopsychical system. Now, clearly pleasure does operate within this system, but it is also the case that ‘biopsychical systems’ have some kind of relation to an outside. As Deleuze puts it, ‘A child who begins to walk does not only bind excitations in a passive synthesis, even supposing these were endogenous excitations born of its own movements. No one has ever walked endogenously.’ (DR 123) That is, our actions have an object. Now, as we might expect, given the account of the three syntheses of time, this second stage, the relation of the biopsychical system to a world of objects, is going to involve two different syntheses, an active and a passive synthesis. As the active synthesis is the most straightforward, I will begin with that.

                  We can start by recalling one of the central axioms of Kant’s model of active synthesis, which was that the subject made the object possible, and vice versa. In Kant is right about the interdependence of subjects and objects (and Deleuze takes him to be right, at least at the level of representation), then a relation to an object is going to require a subject that relates to it. In this sense, Deleuze writes the following:

Active synthesis is defined by a test of reality in an ‘objectal’ relation, and it is precisely according to the reality principle that the ‘ego’ tends to ‘be activated’, to be actively unified, to unite all its small composing and contemplative passive egos, to be topologically distinguished from the Id. (DR 122)

If we recall that pleasure relates to individual bindings, or drives within the unconscious, then it becomes apparent that the organism cannot simply function according to the pleasure principle alone. Sometimes one drive may seek satisfaction in a way which threatens the integrity of the organism as a whole. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, Freud therefore supplements the pleasure principle with the reality principle, which overrides the interests of the particular satisfaction of drives in favour of the pleasure (and survival) of the organism as a whole:

We know that the pleasure principle belongs to a primary operational level of the psychic apparatus, and that so far as self-preservation is concerned it is never anything but useless, indeed highly dangerous, given the challenges posed by the external world. Thanks to the influence of the ego’s self-preservation drive it is displaced by the reality principle, which, without abandoning the aim of ultimately achieving pleasure, none the less demands and procures the postponement of gratification, the rejection of sundry opportunities for such gratification, and the temporary toleration of unpleasure on the long and circuitous road to pleasure. (BPP 48)

Once we have a unified ego, then it is straightforward to see that this ego can relate, intentionally, to an object outside of itself. In fact, Deleuze is here arguing, I think, that in the Freudian analysis, in much the same way that the object is constituted by the subject, the act of unification of the ego is what allows the organism to confront a unified field of objects that it can act on.

                  As well as the extension of active synthesis, we also have an extension of a passive synthesis. This revolves around the notion of a virtual object which is, I think, quite obscure:

The child constructs for itself another object, a quite different kind of object which is a virtual object or centre and which governs and compensates for the progresses and failures of its real activity: it puts several fingers in its mouth, and appraises the whole situation from the point of view of this virtual mother. (DR 123)

Why might we need a separate conception of an object to deal with passive syntheses? Well, the first point to note is that if the child is going to continue to be able to bind excitations, then clearly it needs to relate in some way to a source for those excitations. This implies some kind of relationship to the outside (it needs to relate to some kind of object that generates excitations). Now, as we noted, binding does not relate to objects, but rather to signs – binding is an integration of excitations rather than a relation to a representation. This means that the kind of external object that allows for the generation of excitations will be different in kind from the actual objects of representation.

Now, the notion of a virtual object as presented here is not particularly clear, but I think we can get somewhere with explaining it if we take up Keith Faulkner’s definition of it as ‘an image of an action that will satisfy a drive in an auto-erotic manner.’ (Faulkner PhD, 57) Bearing this in mind, we can understand Deleuze’s claim that ‘sucking occurs only in order to provide a virtual object to contemplate in the context of extending the passive synthesis.’ (DR 123) As I said when we looked at the first synthesis, the process of binding did not rely on the nature of an external object as such, but rather operated in terms of signs (just as the heartbeat doesn’t resemble the motion of the heart). Similarly, in sucking its thumb, the child is not interested in the actual object it is related to (the thumb), but rather in providing signs for a passive synthesis. Thus, the thumb takes the place of the mother’s breast as providing excitations for the organism. Now, given that passive syntheses do not operate with representations, the child does not take the thumb to be the breast, but rather that aspect of the breast which satisfied the original binding process. This aspect is an action, or an image of an action. The thumb therefore provides a series of excitations that can be bound by a sub-representational passive synthesis.

                  Once we accept this account of the nature of the virtual object, we can start to piece together Deleuze’s analysis of it. The fact that we have two types of objects, one of which is actual, and one of which is virtual, should put us in mind of the notion of the pure past that Deleuze introduced in his discussions of the syntheses of time, and in fact, Deleuze characterises virtual objects as ‘shreds of pure past.’ (DR 126) So how are they constituted? Deleuze gives the following description of the constitution of the virtual object:

We see both that the virtuals are deducted from the series of reals and that they are incorporated in the series of reals. This derivation implies, first, an isolation or suspension which freezes the real in order to extract a pose, an aspect or a part. This isolation, however, is qualitative: it does not consist simply in subtracting a part of the real object, since the subtracted part acquires a new nature in functioning as a virtual object. (DR 125)

When we are dealing with an object of representation that we intend towards, we cannot help but think of the object as a totality. When we think of a chair, for instance, we cannot help but think that if we walked around the object then we would continue to be presented with different perspectives on it. Now, the binding process isn’t concerned with the totality of the object, but only with those aspects of the object which are capable of generating excitations. It is thus subtracts from the total object those aspects that are capable of creating excitations in it. It is only interested in a particular gesture, motion, or aspect, and not for instance, the object which actually moves to create the gesture. But as a representation has to be a coherent object separate from the particular perspective it is presented from, then the process of subtraction actually changes its nature (a gesture without a gesturer is incoherent as a representational object, for instance).

                  This, I think, explains why the virtual object is not to be understood in terms of actual objects, either as a full object, or as a partial object. Why does Deleuze refer to them as ‘shreds of pure past’? Well, I think that this point is related to the further comment that virtual objects are incorporated in the series of reals. On the one hand, this is obvious, in that virtual objects have to in some sense motivate behaviour – they have to be found in the world somewhere. So when the child sucks his thumb, it is relating to a virtual object, but only on the basis that this is incorporated into an actual object.

                  There is a second reason, which is that once again, the positing of a non-actual series paralleling the actual world allows us to explain the notion of association. Deleuze puts the question as follows:

The difficulties in conceptualising repetition have often been emphasised. Consider the two presents, the two scenes or the two events (infantile and adult) in their reality, separated by time; how can the former present act at a distance upon the present one? How can it provide a model for it, when all its effectiveness is retrospectively received from the later present? (DR 129)

When we looked at the syntheses of time, the problem with understanding association as operating purely in terms of actual memory was that everything was like everything else in some way. That meant that it was impossible to explain why a particular experience conjured up this memory. We have the same kind of problem here with repetition. How is a present experience connected with a past experience? Freud argues that a trauma, for instance, means that we repeat a prior experience, instead or representing it. Similarly, character involves a repetition of our relations to new situations. So for Freud, what is repeated is a prior actual state of affairs. Ultimately this understanding of repetition makes it obscure therefore why the past still influences the present, and why this past rather than that is repeated. It is also the reason why we end up positing the death drive as a material process, as repetition is always repetition of an actual event.

                  For Deleuze, what ties together two series of events is that the same virtual object is at play (incorporated) in both series. This explains why a past event can still influence the present, not because of the actual events themselves, but because of the virtual object incorporated into them. This also explains why it is the case that we can see, for instance, in someone’s character, a repetition of the same relationships, or the same actions, in different situations. The subject does not reason by analogy on the basis of their past responses, but is reacting to the same event incorporated into a different state of affairs.

                  In this sense, we can say that what is repeated is something that has never actually been present, but rather that the same virtual object is present in disguise in the various states of affairs that make up the repetition. There is no first term to the series itself, however, as repetition takes place in response to the drives rather than the ego and its object.

Third Synthesis

                  Once again, we find that Deleuze’s discussion of the first two syntheses appears to him to be inadequate. Deleuze makes the claim that the virtual and actual objects ‘inevitably become confused, the pure past thereby assuming the status of a former present, albeit mythical, and reconstituting the illusion it was supposed to denounce, resuscitating the illusion of an original and a derived, of an identity in the origin, and a resemblance in the derived.’ (DR 135) The implication, I take it is that ultimately once again, we have a subordination of the virtual to the actual.

                  Deleuze’s resolution to this problem is, I think, once again to posit a fracture within the self. The following is quite speculative, but I think gives the general account of what is happening in the third synthesis.

First, we can note that Deleuze criticised the death drive for instituting a fundamental dualism between life drives and death drives which, as we saw last week, Deleuze sought to overcome through the notion of intensive difference.

Now, the introduction of the narcissistic ego is supposed to show how this is possible by bringing in the notion of a single form of libido, which is present in the death drive, but also desexualised in the life drives. If Deleuze can show that there is one form of libido that is operative in both, he can show that both drives are simply different expressions of the same intensive force. In the Ego and the Id, Freud presents the following account of narcissism:

Where an individual is required or compelled to give up a sexual object, there is not uncommonly a compensatory process in the form of that particular ego-alteration43 that we can only describe as ‘erecting the object within the ego’, just as occurs in melancholia. We do not yet know the precise circumstances in which this surrogation process takes place. Perhaps the ego uses this introjection, which is a form of regression to the mechanism of the oral phase, in order to make it easier to give up the object, or even to make it possible in the first place. Perhaps this identification is the one and only condition under which the id will give up its objects.

When the ego adopts the features of the object, it so to speak presses itself on the id as a love-object; it seeks to make good the id’s loss by saying ‘There, you see, you can love me too – I look just like the object.’ (BPP 120)

In this case, therefore, the ego gives up relations to the outside world in order to relate itself to the id. Now this process is essentially one of the individual abandoning its sexual goals, and its intentional relations to the outside world in order to relate directly to itself. As such, this involves a process of desexualisation of its libido:

By thus commandeering the libido of the various object-cathexes, setting itself up as sole love-object, and desexualizing or sublimating the libido of the id, it operates directly counter to the designs of Eros; it puts itself at the service of the opposing drive-impulses. (BPP 136)

Now, this movement presupposes the existence of what Deleuze calls ‘a neutral, displaceable energy, essentially capable of serving thanatos’ (DR 137), or in other words, of equally becoming expressed in the structures of the id or of the ego. As this is prior to habit and memory, it can be equated with the intensive difference which is actualised in both of them. This account is incomplete without a discussion of the fracture of the ego, which, I take it, occurs through the Oedipus complex, and mirrors Kant’s paralogisms, but it does at least give the basic outline at least.


Lecture 17 – Deleuze and Freud, Part One


                  For the final two weeks of this term, I want to look at with Deleuze’s reaction to Freud’s work, particularly Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Now, as I said last week, Deleuze’s reaction to Beyond the Pleasure Principle is ambivalent, as on the one hand, Freud recognises both that we need a transcendental account of repetition, and that a transcendental account cannot be given in terms of representations. Repetition escapes from representation. In this regard, Freud sets out what we might call a transcendental empiricist account of repetition, much as Deleuze does. As we saw last week, however, the ground of this transcendental empiricist account is, in the final analysis, a principle of inertia, rather than an intensive field of difference, as we find in Deleuze’s metaphysics. Today, I want to look at Deleuze’s formulation of this criticism in regard to two sections of Difference and Repetition. First, I want to look at Deleuze’s critique of Freud as it appears in the introduction. It is here that Deleuze highlights the fact that what Freud has produced is an account of the transcendental conditions of repetition. Second, I want to look at Deleuze’s discussion of the two kinds of death to see how these differ from the death instinct itself.

Two Forms of Repetition

                  As we saw last term, the aim of the introduction was to show that the concept of repetition could not be adequately captured within a conceptual schema. Repetition is commonly seen as ‘difference without concept’ (DR 30), as in the case of Kant’s incongruent counterparts, which can only be distinguished from one another by their reference to a spatial (and hence non-conceptual) milieu. As we saw last week, Freud presents a number of cases of repetition that fall outside of our conceptual understanding: war trauma, the fort-da game, the repeating of the past by the patient, and the case of fate that we find in our lives. Now, while (many of) these cases may be explicable in terms of the pleasure principle, Freud notes that at the very least, the compulsion to repeat seems to be underdetermined by it. Or this reason, Freud introduces the theory of the death drive in order to explain why we feel compelled to manifest this surface compulsion. Now, Deleuze’s question in this regard is as follows:

Do the disguises found in the work of dreams or symptoms – condensation, displacement, dramatisation – rediscover while attenuating a bare, brute repetition (repetition of the Same)? (DR 18-19)

That is, given that we need to find a foundation for repetition, is this foundation going to be a kind of repetition which is different in kind from empirical repetition? A foundation for repetition that simply rests on another bare repetition will simply be inadequate, as rather than explaining repetition, it will presuppose it. I hinted last week that Deleuze’s claim is going to be that underlying repetition for Freud is a material repetition, rather than a spiritual repetition, and indeed this is the case:

Even beyond the pleasure principle, the form of a bare repetition persists, since Freud interprets the death instinct as a tendency to return to the state of inanimate matter, one which upholds the model of a wholly physical or material repetition. (DR 19)

Now, what is interesting about this claim is that Deleuze is not here rejecting the death instinct, but rather claiming that the error is with Freud’s interpretation of it. I want to come back to this next week, when we look at Deleuze’s positive interpretation, but for now, we can note that Deleuze claims that there are two reasons why Freud’s interpretation fails:

  • ‘the persistence of a dualistic and conflictual model which inspired the whole theory of drives’
  • ‘the material model which presided over the whole theory of repetition.’ (DR 137)

I want to now go through these two problems before looking at Deleuze’s own account of death.

First, the persistence of a dualistic model. In the Ego and the Id, Freud gives the following summary of the relation between the sexual drives and the death drive:

On this view, we need to distinguish two types of drives, one of which – the sexual drives, or Eros – is far more conspicuous, and far more accessible to our knowledge and understanding. It includes not only the uninhibited sexual drive itself and the goal-inhibited and hence sublimated drive-impulses deriving from it, but also the self-preservation drive that we perforce ascribe to the ego, and that at the very outset of our psychoanalytical work we had good reason to regard as contrasting sharply with the sexual object-drives. … On the basis of theoretical considerations underpinned by biology, we posited a death drive charged with the task of causing animate organisms to revert to an inanimate state, whereas Eros pursues the goal of maximizing the complexity of life – and thereby of course preserving it – by an ever more catholic combination of the particles into which living matter had been fragmented…According to this view, the emergence of life is therefore the cause both of the urge to carry on living and, simultaneously, of the urge for death, while life itself is a battle and constant compromise between these two urges. Considered thus, the question as to the origin of life remains a cosmological one, while the question as to the purpose and intention of life is answered in dualistic terms. (BPP 130-1)

Now, the difficulty with the notion of opposition, as we saw last term, is that it operates according to an overarching identity. This is problematic if we are going to explain the transcendental conditions of the operation of the pleasure principle, as if such a transcendental account is going to be of explanatory value, it cannot simply presuppose elements we find already within the pleasure principle, such as the notion of force. The fact that the death drive is seen as an active force in opposition to the sexual drives can be seen in statements such as the following:

…in certain lower animals death coincides with the act of procreation. Reproduction is the cause of these creatures’ death in the sense that the death drive can effect its aims without let or hindrance once Eros has been removed from the picture through the act of gratification. (BPP 137)

Deleuze and Guattari in The Anti-Oedipus present the following alternative account, which is already at work in Difference and Repetition:

It is a question of different parts of the machine, different and coexisting, different in their very coexistence. Hence it is absurd to speak of a death desire that would presumably be in qualitative opposition to the life desires. Death is not desired, there is only death that desires, by virtue of the body without organs or the immobile motor, and there is also life that desires, by virtue of the working organs. There we do not have two desires but two parts, two kinds of desiring-machine parts, in the dispersion of the machine itself. (AO 329)

Now, this description is framed through terminology such as the body without organs, but we can still see the fundamental kind of structure that we found in the three syntheses of time. Just as habit and memory were not opposed to one another, but simply differed from one another (and indeed functioned together), the life drive and the death drive are moments of the same system that operate in fundamentally different manners. In both cases, it’s also important to note that we do not have drives, or principles which operate on energy (desires), but rather the movement of desire itself is a manifestation of energy. A properly transcendental account of the death drive cannot oppose it to life drives, therefore, as such an opposition posits them as separate (or separable) from one another, and as structurally similar.

The second problem is the material model at the heart of Freud’s theory. At base, Freud’s explanation of the compulsion to repeat is in terms of a compulsion to return, which, due to the recapitulation theory of embryology, is a compulsion to return to the earliest stages of life, and beyond this, to the ground of life itself, the inorganic. What Freud is therefore proposing is something like an entropic principle for life. Life wants to return to the lowest possible energy state. Now, we have already looked at the influence of Bergson on Deleuze to some extent, and so I just want to give a brief indication of Bergson’s conception of life:

Let us imagine a vessel full of steam at a high pressure, and here and there in its sides a crack through which the steam is escaping in a jet. The steam thrown into the air is nearly all condensed, and this fall represents a loss of something, an interruption, a deficit. But a small part of the jet of steam subsists, uncondensed, for some seconds; it is making an effort to raise drops which are falling; it succeeds at most in retarding their fall. (Creative Evolution, 247)

The Bergsonian conception is, therefore, one of life as a force which works against the tendency of the inorganic to fall back into a low energy state, even if this process can only delay the inevitable return. Deleuze will, in fact, push this point further, and argue that the notion of entropy emerges through a transcendental illusion – we tend to see the world in terms of extension, and this is a necessary condition for the formulation of the second law of thermodynamics.

                  So this brings us to the question of whether Freud’s assumption of the death instinct as a ‘material repetition’ is correct. We can note three factors have to be combined in his explanation. First, it has to be the case that there is a distinct separation between the principles of the life drives and the death drive. Second, it is going to be the case that the death drive is the first of the drives which are developed by the organism. Finally, it is going to be the case that the death drive, as it originates from the leap from inorganic to organic, will be present in all life.

                  Following Keith Ansell Pearson, I want to look at some of the final sections of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and their relation to biology. In part VI, Freud talks about the early stages of life, and introduces the biologist August Wiesmann into the discussion, claiming that ‘what is truly fascinating here is the unexpected similarity to the view that we arrived at by such a very different route.’ (BPP, 85) Simply put, Weismann’s view of the organism divides it into two parts, soma cells and germ cells. Weismann’s central claim arises from the fact that sperm and egg cells divided differently from cells in the rest of the body. Weismann’s argument was that whereas the role of soma-cells was to perform one of many functions within the body (for which they contained only the information necessary for that function), the role of germ cells was solely to produce replacements of the organism itself. Thus, there is a division of labour between different cells within the organism. Now, this explains, for instance, why cutting the tail off a rat does not lead to a rat that in turn breeds tailless rats, as the germ cells and the soma cells develop in different directions too early for changes in the structure of the organism to affect the germ line (an experimental puzzle for other theories of inheritance, such as Lamarck’s). As such, Weismann’s model is roughly the same, structurally, as we find in modern genetics.

                  We can see that this model relates to Freud’s in that the organism is governed by two separate principles, as is made explicit by Weismann’s account of the necessity of death of the organism:

Let us imagine that one of the higher animals became immortal; it then becomes perfectly obvious it would cease to be of value to the species to which it belonged. Suppose that such an immortal individual could escape all fatal accidents, through infinite time – a supposition which is of course hardly conceivable. The individual would be nevertheless unable to avoid, from time to time, slight injuries to one or another part of its body. The injured parts could not retain their former integrity, and thus the longer the individual lived, and the less perfectly would it fulfil the purpose of its species. Individuals are injured by the operation of external forces, and for this reason alone it is necessary that new and perfect individuals should continually arise to take their place, and this necessity would remain even if the individual possessed the power of living eternally.

From this follows, on the one hand, the necessity of reproduction, and, on the other, the utility of death. (Weismann, Essays upon Heredity, 23-4)

In multicellular organisms, death is a necessary and natural part of the process of living, as is a drive to reproduce. In this sense, therefore, we can find in higher organisms both a death drive, and life drives. The important question is one of priority, however, which comes first, the drive to life, or that to death? Here we encounter the fundamental limitation of Freud’s account, as it is simply not the case that simple life, such as the amoeba, has an inherent tendency to its own destruction. In fact, provided conditions are right, an amoeba would carry on living forever, and reproduce through division, whereby its own existence is multiplied, rather than replaced. In unicellular organisms, we do not have the division of labour between germ cells and soma cells, and so it is not the case that the organism can degenerate through the loss of some of its cells, but not others. The utility of death is to allow the germ cells to perpetuate themselves at the expense of the soma cells, but if we return to a point prior to this division, then there simply is only one type of cell, and so death has no utility for the organism:

Although they are certainly destroyed by other animals, there is nothing comparable to that deterioration of the body which takes place in the higher organisms. Unicellular animals are too simply constructed for this to be possible. If an infusorians is injured by the loss of some part of its body, it may often recover its former integrity, but if the injury is too great, it dies. The alternative is always either perfect integrity or complete destruction.

We may now leave this part of the subject, for it is obvious that normal death, that is to say, death which arises from internal causes, is an impossibility among theses lower organisms. (EH, 27)

This, therefore, presents a problem for Freud, in that it does not appear to be the case that the earliest forms of life do, in fact, exhibit the propensity to death that Freud has posited of them. Further, it is the case that for Weismann, even in higher organisms, the death of the soma-cells only exists to make possible to perpetuation of the germ cells. This perpetuation has to be, on Freud’s reading, simply an infinite deferment of death, an infinite extension of the circuit of the organism’s return to the inorganic. Returning to the first of these points, Freud’s only response is to claim that the death drive is merely implicit in lower life:

The primitive structure of these organisms may conceal from us certain features which, though present in them too, are actually observable only in the higher animals, where they have found morphological expression. (BPP 88)

Given the nature of simple organic life, it seems difficult to align Freud’s claim that life is entropic with the basic facts of biology. In fact, it appears to be the case that a drive to preservation precedes the death drive. If that is the case, then Freud’s model becomes problematic.

Two notions of Death

                  How do we reconcile this claim with the fact that Deleuze maintains the principle of the death drive? Well, for Deleuze, the retention of the death drive will be premised on a reinterpretation of what death amounts to. For Freud, death is understood in terms of a material repetition. Deleuze is instead going to understand death in terms of the other category of repetition, spiritual repetition.

                  In fact, Deleuze here introduces the same distinction that has been running through chapter two between active synthesis and passive synthesis. Now, the parallel isn’t perfect here, but death within the Freudian model is a principle that operates in relation to a synthesis of undifferentiated elements. It comes into play at the point at which these elements become organised as something separate from them and active in its own right (it is a principle over and above that which it is a principle of). The death drive in Freud’s terms thus operates therefore according to an active synthesis. As with Deleuze’s discussions throughout this chapter, we will find that as well as the active synthesis, there is a passive synthesis that underlies it. Thus, Deleuze writes as follows:

Blanchot rightly suggests that death has two aspects. One is personal, concerning the I or the ego, something which I can encounter in a struggle or meet at a limit, or in any case, encounter in a present which causes everything to pass. The other is strangely impersonal, with no relation to “me”, neither present nor past but always coming, the source of an incessant multiple adventure in a persistent question. (DR138)

Freud’s model is clearly closer to the first of these forms of death, although I think it is somewhat broader than Freud’s own case. This first model of death is not simply ‘the model of an indifferent inanimate matter to which the living would return.’ (DR 137), and there is an open question of whether Deleuze is here making a deeper point about ‘this death [that] always comes from without, even at the moment when it constitutes the most personal possibility, from the past, even at the moment when it is most present.’ (DR 138) Whereas the death drive appears to be an impersonal instinct that has merely an ‘extrinsic, scientific and objective definition,’ (DR 137) the personal nature of death seems to relate it more to something like Hegel’s Phenomenology. In the Master-slave dialectic, Hegel claims that it is the experience of death that allows us to develop an understanding of ourselves freed from inessential determinations:

For this consciousness has been fearful, not of this or that particular thing or just at odd moments, but its whole being has been seized with dread; for it has experienced the fear of death, the absolute Lord. In that experience, it has been quite unmanned, has trembled in every fibre of its being, and everything solid and stable has been shaken to its foundations. But this pure universal movement, the absolute melting away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure being-for-self, which consequently is implicit in this consciousness. (Hegel, Phen Sp, §194)

Deleuze would be claiming that this is once again a surface manifestation of the true nature of death. This might also be a criticism of Heidegger’s notion of being towards death, although Deleuze’s position on this point is rather ambiguous.

                  So what is the true nature of death? Well, we saw a couple of weeks ago, that the third synthesis of time in the case of Zarathustra was represented by Zarathustra’s death. Deleuze’s discussion of Freud also sees death as ‘a pure form – the empty form of time.’ (DR 137) Death therefore refers us to the field of intensities of chapter one, it is ‘the state of free differences when they are no longer subject to the form imposed upon them by an I or an ego.’ (DR 138) So, the real notion of death is in fact the collapse of a given structure in the face of a some kind of pure becoming. In this sense, death is a perpetual drive that destabilises identities, and makes transition possible:

The experience of death is the most common of occurrences in the unconscious, precisely because it occurs in life and for life, in every passage or becoming, in every intensity as passage or becoming. (AO 330)

In this sense, life is characterised by death, to the extent that it is run through with experiences which destabilise the structure of the organism, and the identity of the ego. There is, therefore, for Deleuze, something equivalent to the death drive, but this does not operate according to an entropic principle in the way that we find in Freud’s model. Structures are not destabilised through a drive to return to a state where there is no energy in the system, but rather through the emergence of intensities into the field of representation. In this sense, the death drive does not operate according to a principle, but simply is the manifestation of intensive difference into the realm of the unconscious (‘this energy does not serve Thanatos, it constitutes him’ [DR 139]). This leads to a reversal of our understanding of death. Since intensive death is a part of life (the destabilising of identities), our ‘death’ in this sense is coextensive with life:

‘it finally ceases to die since it ends up dying, in the reality of a last instant that fixes it in this way as an I, all the while undoing the intensity, carrying it back to the zero that envelops it.’ (AO 330-1)


                  Deleuze’s interpretation of the death drive is therefore one that replaces the fundamentally entropic model that we find in Freud’s interpretation with one that opens up onto the univocal ontology that we looked at last term. So the final question is, why do we repeat that which we cannot represent? Earlier, Deleuze has stated that ‘the present is the repeater, the past is repetition itself, and the future is that which is repeated.’ (DR 117) It is therefore the field of intensive difference which expresses itself in the present. Now, as this is different in kind from representation, it cannot occur within the field of representation as it is in itself. In this sense, the intensities which constitute us express themselves throughout our lives in a variety of contexts ‘in disguise.’ In this sense, when we are dealing with intensive difference, ‘the path it traces is invisible and becomes visible only in reverse, to the extent that it is travelled over and covered by the phenomena it induces in the system.’ (DR 146)

                  This brings us on to the theme of the dark precursor, which hopefully we will talk about next week. I also want to talk about how this understanding of the death drive as intensive plays through Deleuze’s reinterpretation of Freud’s essay, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in other words, how the third synthesis relates to the first two syntheses of habit and memory within Freud’s model of teh psychic apparatus.

Lecture Sixteen: Freud and Beyond the Pleasure Principle


                  This week, I want to look at Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle. As we will see in the coming weeks, Deleuze’s relationship to Freud, even within Difference and Repetition itself is ambivalent. We can see this ambivalence as arising from Freud’s introduction of two projects which, at least from Deleuze’s perspective, are at odds with one another. First, Freud recognises that the phenomenon of repetition cannot be understood purely on the basis of the subject’s conscious relation to the world. Like Deleuze, Freud is interested in the conditions that make repetition possible. Freud’s account of repression sets up a relation between repetition and representation that mirrors Deleuze’s own:

…the patient does not remember anything at all of what he has and repressed, but rather acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory, but as an action; he repeats it, without of course being aware of the fact that he is repeating it. (RRWT, 36)

The analyst’s treatment of a patient involves helping the patient to form a representation of an initially unrepresentable trauma, therefore, which the patient repeats without being able to represent this repetition. The notion of repetition at work in the project of psychoanalysis therefore bears certain structural analogies with that which Deleuze is interested in.

                  The other side of Freud’s project is to provide a scientific (and physical) basis to psychoanalysis. Now, this aim is in tension with Deleuze’s philosophy, since Deleuze attempted to show in the introduction to Difference and Repetition that it was impossible to formulate a conception of repetition on the basis of scientific law. I want to come back to these themes over the next few weeks. This week, I just want to focus on Freud’s own work in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. As we shall see, what Freud is attempting to provide is something like a transcendental account of the conditions of repetition. We can divide the essay into two parts. The first, parts I to III provides an account of the nature of repetition, and shows that we cannot explain the nature of repetition in terms of the obvious principle, the pleasure principle (we repeat because we take pleasure from repeating, or at least, some part of the system of the psyche takes pleasure in repeating). Rather, we need to go beyond this principle in order to explain repetition. This lecture is therefore divided into two primary parts. First, I want to explain the nature of the problem with repetition, before moving on to Freud’s account of the source of repetition in the nature of the death drive.

Repetition and the Pleasure Principle

                  Before Freud introduces the notion of repetition, he begins with the notion of pleasure. Now, it seems to be a truism that we act in order to maximise our own pleasure (the key assumption, or at least something like it, which we find at the root of utilitarianism). As Freud points out, however, there are a number of cases where it appears to be the case that we in fact act in ways which are guaranteed to lead to unpleasure. In order to begin to explain these cases, we need some kind of definition of what pleasure amounts to. Freud’s account of pleasure relates it to unannexed energy within the psychic apparatus. What does this amount to? Essentially, we can see the psyche as a system subjected to excitations both from inside and outside. Insofar as these excitations threaten the stability of the psyche (traumas and shocks which the mind cannot adequately get to grips with), these excitations are interpreted by consciousness as ‘unpleasure’. A relaxation of the psyche, which involves a reduction in energy which hasn’t been incorporated into the psychic system, on the contrary, is seen as involving pleasure. The psyche is therefore a homeostatic system which seeks to minimise the amount of energy that could destabilise it. The principle that the psyche attempts to maximise pleasure is therefore tied to a principle of homeostasis, the constancy hypothesis:

[O]ne aspiration of the psychic apparatus is to keep the quantity of excitation present within it at the lowest possible level, or at least to keep it constant. (BPP 47)

Now, it’s clearly the case that we do not simply experience pleasure in our lives. The question is, can the experience of unpleasure be brought into accord with the pleasure principle? Most of our experiences of unpleasure can be classified in two ways, the intervention of the reality principle, and the repression of drives:

In the first case, we often have to defer pleasure in order to gain a greater amount of pleasure in the future, that is, the psyche has to take account of reality in order to preserve itself. Unpleasure in this case is simply a consequence of a process which more effectively accords with the pleasure principle.

In the second, it may be the case that a part of the psychic apparatus seeks pleasure at the expense of the psyche as a whole, which can happen particularly in sexual repression. Here, one drive of the psyche is separated off from the others by the ego. When this drive seeks to get rid of an excitation (to experience pleasure), it becomes expressed through ‘direct or surrogate gratification’ that leads to unpleasure on the part of the ego itself. The pleasure principle is therefore still in operation in this case, overall, and the appearance of unpleasure is a result of the split caused by the ego.

While these cases may explain instances of unpleasure, Freud goes on to argue that in the case of repetition, these explanations are not sufficient. There are four cases of repetition that Freud considers:

                  The first of these instances is what we might call today post traumatic stress disorder. Soldiers who suffered shocks during the great war had a tendency to relive these experiences in dreams. Now, these shocks are essentially moments where energy is released into the psychic apparatus which cannot be contained by the psyche itself. As shock is experienced as unpleasure, why is it the case that those who have suffered trauma repeat these experiences in contravention of the pleasure principle?

                  The second is the fort-da game. In this example, Freud introduces the case of the child in the habit of throwing a wooden reel into his cot and exclaiming ‘o-o-o-o’ (which Freud interprets to mean ‘fort’, or gone), and then pulling it back and exclaiming ‘da’ (there). The child repeats this action, and derives obvious pleasure from it. How are we to explain it? Well, Freud gives a psychoanalytical reading of it in terms of the mother. In throwing away the reel and then recalling it, the child is re-enacting the departure of the mother, and the child’s own ability to abnegate his drives, in that he is able to deal with her absence without fuss. This explanation gives a good account of the child’s pleasure at the mother’s return (the ‘da’ aspect of the game), but cannot explain why the child takes pleasure in both aspects (the mother going away as well). Freud therefore brings in the parallel case of the child taking pleasure in the absence of the father (who was in the military), and the fact that the child has the mother all to himself (the game of ‘go in war!’). Now, while in both of these cases, we have somewhat satisfactory explanations of specific repetitions, Freud argues that they point to the fact that there is a general compulsion to repeat in operation in child’s play.

                  The third instance is that encountered in therapy. As neurosis involves making the paitent conscious of the unconscious elements that have been repressed by him, it involves bringing to light repressed experiences (bringing them into memory). Freud notes that a repressed experience enters consciousness in two forms. On the one hand, it emerges into memory (it becomes representable), as therapy brings the experience to light. On the other, insofar as it has not been brought into consciousness, it is played out, or repeated by the subject of therapy as if it were a present experience. Now, we can understand why the ego wants to repress the experience, as bringing it to light will lead to unpleasure. The question is, however, what is it that causes the drive to want to express itself through repetition. What is it that compels this drive itself to want to repeat itself?

                  Finally, we encounter repetition in everyday life regardless of neurosis. People often find themselves repeating the same situations, the same relationships, throughout their lives. In fact, the whole notion of ‘character’ is grounded in the fact that there is a continuity throughout one’s life that expresses itself in the repetition of reactions to the same situations, even when this repetition gets in the way of satisfying the pleasure principle:

We are much more strongly affected by cases where people appear to be the passive victim of something which they are powerless to influence, and yet which they suffer again and again in an endless repetition of the same fate. (BPP 60)

What Freud takes from these clinical cases is the fact that as well as the explanations given by the pleasure principle, we also need to give an explanation of a parallel fact, the compulsion to repeat. In order to do so, Freud claims that we have to move beyond the clinical foundation of the pleasure principle itself, and therefore to move to a speculative account of repetition.

The Biological Model of the Psyche

                  If we are going to explain the principles that operate beyond the pleasure principle, we need to have a better understanding of how the various systems of the psyche interact. Now, pleasure is the perception of a change in the level of excitation of the psyche, and as such is a conscious experience. In order to explain what principles operate prior to the instigation of the pleasure principle, we need to therefore give an account of the genesis of consciousness itself. In was follows, Freud refers to the system responsible for perception and consciousness as the Pcpt-Cs system, and consciousness in particular as the Cs-system. I first want to go through how this system functions normally before looking at Freud’s account of its genesis.

                  What happens when we receive some kind of excitation from the world? Well, obviously, this excitation both needs to be recognised in some way (we need to be conscious that something has happened), and we also need to store the excitation in some way (we need to incorporate them into memory). Now, Freud’s contention is that ‘it is not possible within a given system for something both to enter consciousness and also to leave a memory trace.’ (BPP 64) The reason for this is that if traces of excitation remained in consciousness, then they would prevent the system from registering new excitations. We therefore need to see the processes of memory and consciousness as operating within two parallel systems. How is it that consciousness develops the role that it does? In order to answer this question, Freud turns to embryology, and the recapitulation theory of evolution (which has since been discredited). The central claim is that the fact that consciousness is located in the cerebral cortex, which is ‘at the surface of the brain,’ (BPP 63) together with the recapitulation theory of evolution, can allow us to explain how the pleasure principle comes into being.

                  We can begin with the most primitive form of life, an ‘undifferentiated vesicle of irritable matter.’ (BPP 65) Now, due to the fact that a part of this organism is turned towards the world, it naturally becomes affected by various stimuli affecting it from the outside world. As it is affected by these various shocks, its nature changes so that it is able to transmit them without its elements changing. This, therefore, is the origin of consciousness. As the system evolves, it develops protection against excessive stimulation from the outside by partially reverting to the inorganic (the skull), and, in higher creatures, by separating off the perceptual aspects further (the development of particular senses). Such a model allows Freud to explain a number of key results of psychoanalysis. It is not simply the case that all stimulation comes from outside the organism. The organism will also suffer disturbances from processes within it. Now, since these processes operate within the organism, the trauma produced by them cannot be reduced by the presence of a barrier, as was the case with shocks from the outside. Traumas which affect the organism from the inside therefore have a far greater role within the economy of the organism than those which affect it from the outside. We can further note that the organism will tend to interpret internal trauma as originating from the outside in order to allow its defences to be brought into play, which leads to the notion of projection.

                  On this level, we can explain some of the cases of repetition I discussed at the opening of this lecture. I have mentioned that what is shocking in the case of trauma is energy that is unbound operating through the psychic apparatus. We can now note that as well as unbound energy, there is also energy that forms a reservoir that can be used to deal with external threats to the psychic apparatus. Thus we can use energy to cathect, or annex free flowing energy within the psychic system. The example Freud uses is the case of pain. If the barriers of the organism are damaged by some kind of shock, so that they no longer protect it from the influx of stimuli, then the organism can attempt to use its own inner resources to annex this free flowing energy into a state whereby it becomes a part of the psychic system. Pain is therefore a case of this kind, where a stimulus is incorporated into the economy of the psyche, rather than simply being dissipated.

                  This means that the pleasure principle does not always govern the operations of the psyche. In the case of an extreme threat to the psyche as a whole, the organism may attempt to stabilise the psychic system by suspending the pleasure principle, and instead annexing the free flowing energy into the system of the psyche. Now, this process of annexing energy from the outside can explain some of the situations where it appears as if the pleasure principle has been contravened. In the case of severe trauma, the system experiences unpleasure in order to retain its overall integrity. If we return to the question of war trauma, Freud now claims that such phenomena are a retrospective attempt to master the phenomena in question, that is, to assert control over it. Now, in the case of war trauma, this attempt to master, and bind energy within the system leads to the repetition of experiences which lead to unpleasure on the part of the subject. Freud therefore claims that such compulsions to repeat simply cannot be understood according to the pleasure principle.

                  There are therefore two principles operative within the psyche. The first is to increase pleasure within the psychic apparatus by reducing the quantity of energy within it. This is the pleasure principle. The second is a principle that attempts to convert unbound energy into bound energy by mastering excitations. This is the compulsion to repeat, which will become the death drive. Freud’s claim is that it is only once excitations have been annexed by the psyche that the pleasure principle can become operative:

This would then mean that it was the task of the higher echelons of the psychic apparatus to annex excitations originating from the drives and reaching it via the primary process. Any failure of this annexion process would bring about a dysfunction analogous to traumatic neurosis. Only when the annexion has taken place would the pleasure principle (or, once the latter has been duly modified, the reality principle) be able to assert its dominion unhindered. In the meantime, however, the psychic apparatus’s other task of controlling or annexing the excitation would be very much to the fore – not, it is true, in opposition to the pleasure principle, but independently of it, and to some extent quite heedless of it. (BPP 75)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle

                  At this stage, it may be worth pondering why we have taken this detour through the sphere of biology in order to essentially repeat a result which was already given within the first, clinical section of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Well, by grounding the compulsion to repeat in the original structure of the organism, Freud has opened the possibility of analysing this compulsion as a basic function of life itself. In fact, there is touch of sleight of hand at this point in Freud’s account, as the compulsion to repeat is understood as a compulsion to return. While the compulsion to repeat can operate in accordance with the libido, it can also operate as a tendency of life to return to an earlier stage.

                  Freud characterises this tendency to return in the following terms:

At this point we cannot help thinking that we have managed to identify a universal attribute of drives – and perhaps of all organic life – that has not hitherto been clearly recognized, or at any rate not explicitly emphasized. A drive might accordingly be seen as a powerful tendency inherent in every living organism to restore a prior state, which prior state the organism was compelled to relinquish due to the disruptive influence of external forces; we can see it as a kind of organic elasticity, or, if we prefer, as a manifestation of inertia in organic life. (BPP 76)

What leads Freud to this conclusion? Central to this conception are, I think, two primary assumptions in the account we have been looking at so far. The first is that the organism is defined essentially as closed off from the world. Organic life’s engagement with the world is seen as essentially traumatic and disruptive for Freud. Second, there is the belief that organisms, in their particular development, tend to repeat their development as a species. If we combine these two assumptions, then we have the claim that change (and hence, development) is traumatic, and therefore generates a move for the organism to return to a prior, less traumatic state. Now, Freud claims that this movement can be seen in the fact that fish, when spawning, return not simply to their own birthplace, but also ‘to the previous domain of their species, which, in the course of time, they have exchanged for others.’ (BPP 77) Here the second claim, the recapitulation theory of embryo development, comes into play, as each animal carries with it the history of its development from the simplest forms of life. In fact, this movement is not simply to the earliest forms of life, but to the origin of life itself as the move from the inorganic to the organic. Thus, the drive to repeat is not simply a drive to return to an earlier form of life, but in fact, a death drive. In this sense, the compulsion to repeat/return and the death drive are equivalent:

The goal of all life is death, or to express it retroactively: the inanimate existed before the animate. (BPP 78)


                  Freud’s account of the origin of repetition therefore ultimately traces it back to the constitution of consciousness itself, therefore. Life can be seen as playing out the relations between two different drives. First, there is the libido, which aims at conserving life by protecting the organism from external traumas that threaten to destabilise it. This conservation of life is ultimately to be understood as simply making more complex the more fundamental drive, the death drive, which seeks to return the organism to its primal state. I want to relate this to Deleuze’s criticisms of Freud next week, but for now, we can note a number of key features of this account:

The first is that the death of an organism is not (necessarily) something that is due to external factors, but rather something that is inherent to the organism itself. The organism seeks to return to the inanimate. The obvious question to ask about this claim is, why is it the case that life therefore exists at all if it seeks its own dissolution? Well, death is at first ‘still easy for living matter; the course of life that had to be gone through was probably short, its direction determined by the newly created organism’s chemical structure.’ (BPP 78-9) Over time, however, the complexity of life means that more and more detours are incorporated between life and death. These drives delay the movement towards death, and so appear to be conservative. They are the ‘guardians of life’ in that they allow the organism to perpetuate itself, but in the end, these drives, such as the sexual drives, are ultimately subordinated to the death drive. They are determined by the fact that the organism wants to choose its own death, rather than succumb to external influences.

                  Second, the account of the organism that Freud has developed is essentially conservative. We can note, for instance, that life does not itself develop into more complex forms, but only increases in complexity under the influence of external circumstances, which mould the organism by chance. Life is essentially passive, therefore:

[I]t must be the developmental history of our planet and its relationship to the sun that has left its imprint for us to behold in the development of organisms. The conservative organic drives have assimilated every one of these externally imposed modifications of the organism’s life-cycle and duly preserved them in order to repeat them, and therefore inevitably give the misleading impression of being forces bent on change and progress, whereas they merely seek to achieve an old goal by new means as well as old. (BPP 78)

                  Third, from the very beginning of Freud’s account, we are dealing with an isolated organism. Freud’s account essentially sees life as closed off from the world. The key transition, in which the organism emerges from the inorganic, is therefore something of which we are ‘quite incapable of imagining.’ (BPP 78) This is quite different from the kind of account we find in Deleuze, where the organism is only provisionally isolated from the world, as a set of ‘relations of motion and rest, of speeds and slownesses between particles.’ (SPP 123)

                  Finally, in spite of these differences, what Freud essentially has given us is a transcendental account of the conditions of repetition, where they are traced back to an operation outside of consciousness itself. In this regard, we can see that Deleuze’s relationship to the Freudian enterprise is going to be essentially one of ambivalence, rejecting the organicism, whilst accepting the notion of a transcendental and non-representational ground to repetition.