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'An aphorism, properly stamped and molded, has not been "deciphered" when it has simply been read; rather one has then to begin its interpretation, for which is required an art of interpretation.' -- Nietzsche, 'On the Genealogy of Morals'

about difference « Previous | |Next »
January 25, 2007

I've started thumbing though Gilles Deleuze's Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1972). In it we find an early essay on Henri Bergson, entitled Bergson's 'Conception of Difference', in which he argues that Bergson's concept of difference is different from dialectical difference--both Plato's and Hegels' . With respect to the latter Deleuze says:

In Bergon, thanks to the notion of the virtual, the thing differs from itself first, immediately. According to Hegel, the thing differs from itself because it differs first from everything it is not, and thus difference goes as far as contradiction. If Bergon could object that Platonism goes no further than a concept of difference as still external, the objection that he woudl adddress to a dialectic of contradiction is that it gets no further than a conception of difference as only abstract....the dialectic falls short of difference itself, which is the cause or reason for nuance.

Deleuze says that everything comes back to Bergson's critique of the negative: his whole effort is aimed at a conception of difference without negation; a conception of difference that does not contain the negative.

Why so? This is what I don't understand. What's the big problem with negation, that it has to be done away with?

Deleuze says that difference is an action and an actualization. Isn't that Hegel? A thing changes (becomes) through the process of actualization? Hegel also thinks in terms of tendencies in physical processes, self-organizing tendencies in dynamical processes, and also holds that 'what is actual ' as a fully formed entity.

The key term is 'viritual' as Deleuze says that it is only our ignorance of the virtual that makes us believe in contradicton and negation. Why so? isn't virtual referring to the way that tendencies in dynamical processes happen? So how does the virtual/actual couple work? (Why the use of couple instead of duality?) If so, then the virtuality is the "yet-to-come" --it refers to how we can we speak of the future in a world of becoming, when the yet -to-come in that it is not yet and it has not yet arrived.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:27 PM | | Comments (4)


I think I can take a crack at this. "Difference" must imply relation: two aspects of something must be related to each other to be comparable, which is to say, different. Now the root of Hegelian difference is the difference between consciousness and its object, or, more generally, the world.

All further differences are derived as "contradictions" from this "originary" difference through consciousness' relation to itself in relating to its object, ultimately to be "sublated" in the absolute as infinite self-relation in otherness, by which the very connection to the world is lost in abstraction. Thus consciousness sets the limit to the world idealistically in terms of (the conditions of) its conceivability.

But consciousness (and memory) are something in the world, embodied and existing only in its ongoing interaction with the world to which it relates and through which it is "actualized" and transformed. It's through the "virtual" that consciousness becomes other, without that otherness being a negation of its (relation to) the world.

And that is the way that "things" would become conceivable otherwise, which is only apparently their "negation".

DeLanda says that the category 'virtual' does not not refer to virtual reality which digital simulations have made so familar; but to a real virtuality forming a vital component of the object or the material world. It is part of the real object and refers to differential elements and relations.

What is this but another name for 'structure'? Do not elements and relations form a structure?

In Difference and Repetition Deleuze is quite explicit: the reality of the virtual

must be defined as strictly part of the real object – as though the object had one part of itself in the virtual into which it plunged as though into an objective dimension. (p.209)

And this reality of the virtual consists:
of the differential elements and relations along with the singular points which correspond to them. The reality of the virtual is structure. We must avoid giving the elements and relations which form a structure an actuality which they do not have, and withdrawing from them a reality which they have. We have seen that a double process of reciprocal determination and complete determination defined that reality: far from being undetermined, the virtual is completely determined. (p.209)

In Whitehead's vocabulary, "actual occasions", the temporal, particular "things" that really are and comprise all reality, are processes of "concretion" based on the conjuncture of "prehensions", (i.e. basically, "causes"). "Actual occasions" then form "nexuses", some of which may constitute "societies", some of which might temporally recur as "traditions". So, yes, the components and relations of processes would form their "structure", but "structure" would be a function of process rather than abstractable from it.

The notion of the "virtual" is meant to replace the notion of potentiality, as a function logically delimited by prior actuality. An example of the "virtual" would be nexuses of neuronal synaptic connections of variable strength forming neuronal groups that interact with other neuronal groups and might form, add-on, and re-form memories, so as to "produce" and respond to novel, unexpectable environmental events, whereby something new occurs that is not a function of a prior actuality. The capacity to behaviorally respond to novel unexpectable environmental events I would see as the main driver for the evolution of neural complexity and emergent mental functionning, in contrast to the dwellers in the Cave of Dennett, who would want to see mental functions as a direct effect of cognitive-instrumental "adaption". Dennett's view is actually subtly, residually "dualistic", by virtue of his very penchant for reductionism.

Yes I also interpret virtual as a replacement for the Aristotlean/Hegelian/Marxist category of potentiality. If you dump that, and still want to think in terms of becoming, then you need a word to describe the process of change, its regularities, possibilities and trajectory. Hence 'virtuality'.

And that then involves rethinking the ontology of the regularities, possibilities and trajectory of becoming.

Some seem to imply---Elizabeth Grosz--that this a matter of our concepts ---and they are not in the material world. I read Deleuze as a realist on 'trajectory' of actualisation.

DeLanda wanders off into several pages on modal logic, Quine and possible worlds---I have no idea why. Talking to the analytic philosophers? Why bother when Deleuze says that the possible is opposed to the real, and the possible is thereby subject to a process of "realisation". 'By contrast, the virtual is not opposed to the real; it possesses a full reality by itself. So we are not talking about possible worlds at all.

Deleuze, it seems to me, thinks of individual processes in organic terms----the development process that turns an embryo into an organism. Differentiation expresses the actualisation of the virtual'.

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