Slow Reading (1.10): Deleuze's DR (pp. 10-11)

DeleuzeDR10The last two paragraphs of this section may, in fact, contain Deleuze's most compellingly positive theorization of repetition (at least up to this point), though his argumentative moves are still difficult to parse. "Theatre is real movement," he writes, not just in essence but in action: "it extracts real movement from all the arts it employs" (DR 10). What I take Deleuze to mean here is that theatre — understood as a public, expressive staging of activity — is an apparatus that selects a finite number of components — settings, themes, roles, events, problems, languages, costumes, objects, tropes, conventions, etc. — and sets them in relation to one other (a composition). This relatedness constitutes an extraction of "real movement," for Deleuze, insofar as the very parts of the composition are themselves mere shards cut from a real world of innumerable components; together (and only together) they roll out an entire dramatic territory that I can enter and exit again and again. I can play in this territory; I touch and am touched by the directions that hold this theatrical assemblage together. In Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, "we are told" (DR 10) and shown that theatrical directions and their potential movements do not oppose the world (i.e., its nature or its history); they do not even mediate my relation with the world. Rather, they affect my relation to the world directly, which is to say immediately. My encounter with the stage itself, Deleuze argues, is an "experience [of] pure forces, dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary upon [my] spirit, and link it directly with nature and history, with a language which speaks before words, with gestures that develop before organised bodies, with masks before faces, with spectres and phantoms before characters — the whole apparatus of repetition as a 'terrible power'" (10). Okay, but what on earth does this mean? And what does it have to do with repetition? (This has become my readerly refrain: What does this have to do with repetition?)

It's hard to say. Those who have read Deleuze and Guattari's work will recognize the phrase "gestures that develop before organised bodies" as a precursor to their Artaud-born concept, "bodies without organs," but I do not want to go down that road. The enigmatic passage above concerning "pure forces" and "dynamic lines" gives some insight, I think, into what Deleuze means when he claims — earlier in his introduction — that singularities (rather than particularities) are the only things capable of repetition (though "things" might be the wrong word here). And so I ask, What might the  conceptual relation be among "theatre," "singularity," and "repetition"? How might "theatre" (in the abstract) help flesh out the notion of a "singularity" as that which "repeats"? And can we hook this back up to the problem of style in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche's respective writings?

For me, the word that stands out as being most important in Deleuze's sixteenth paragraph is "emptiness" (DR 10). What sense can we make of "the emptiness of [theatrical] space, and the manner in which it is filled and determined by the signs and masks through which the actor plays a role which plays other roles" (Ibid.)? Emptiness, if we take it quite literally, is the condition of potential direction, placement, and composition, that is, of a kinetic overlapping, interpenetrating, and interacting to come. Emptiness, we might say, is the condition of an event that takes some sort of form before the event can be particularized, generalized, conceptualized, or mediated. (This event can be major or minor: the fall of the Bastille, the first carnival, the birth of a child, love at first sight, a traumatic encounter, reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) This emptiness, Deleuze suggests, is itself the "condition of movement," that is, the stage upon which the component parts of each event are dramatized, which is to say composed and sensed as a whole perceptible assemblage of forces, lines, and relations. This raw, evental assemblage (even without a general concept by which to recognize it) can repeat in altogether disparate settings, providing the necessary condition of an empty stage. Repetition requires, in other words, a little bit of room . . . room for singularities to form and, later, to return. According to this logic, the particular stage of  a particular drama house constitutes a material simulacrum of a much more radical, ontological, and inherent emptiness in the world itself. Each performance of each and every play constitutes the repetition of a singular composition which is itself made possible by a prior (creative) emptiness. The stage, understood this way, does not mediate or oppose the world. Rather, as a simulacrum, it repeats the world's fundamental operation, providing a peculiar emptiness in which singularities can recur (just as they do in life, in nature, and in history). In this emptiness, I encounter the components of a performance not as finished wholes but as unfinished, interrelated forces and lines. I am caught up among these forces and lines, undone and re-done when I choose to play with them . . . 

Indeed, we might connect this notion of emptiness to the styles of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. By claiming that they "invent[ed] an incredible equivalent of theatre within philosophy" (DR 8), Deleuze seems to be saying that their respective styles clear a space — a stage, an emptiness — upon which they "dramatiz[e] Ideas" (DR 10). They do not frustrate readers by simply avoiding the conventions of philosophical writing; rather, they begin in (a created) emptiness, an emptiness without concept, orientation, or preparation. The raw situation in which I encounter their writings as an unprepared reader is sensuously charged. I find myself vulnerable; I find myself confused amidst the very building — that is, the very performance — of their thinking (thus Deleuze's claim that they introduce movement into philosophy). Two things, then: [1] Kierkegaard and Nietzsche's writings actively clear space (forming a stage), and [2] they use this clearing to work out their concepts, leaving their readers (much like novelists or dramatists or poets) in medias res, that is, in the middle of things. When I read them, I am "in the middle" of concept-building, directly confronted with the messiness of Kierkegaard's conceptualization of repetition, immediately exposed to Nietzsche's often frantic efforts to express a notion of eternal return. And a third thing: As a reader, if I find myself allured by their style or am sympathetic to their purpose, I too climb on the stage, leaping with Abraham and dancing with Dionysus. I too must learn to repeat them, and this readerly repetition is, much like any and all stage productions, is a simulacrum of a far more fundamental, ontological condition of movement. And Deleuze calls this empty pre-condition, as strange as it might sound, "repetition."

In the aesthetic realm, we might find an analogue to Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in the paintings of J.M.W. Turner. Take a look:

The sun, which appears as a vertical column of white light, sets the staging here. Its reflection splits the sea, obscures the horizon, and sets my eye wandering amidst the horrors of the oncoming typhoon and the flailing limbs of dead and dying slaves. I cannot immediately recognize what is going on here, but I am, nevertheless, immediately confronted [1] with a clearing of space, [2] with the activity of some horror that I encounter "in the middle of things," and [3] with the call to work through the related components and roles and shades and colors and divisions of the painting. Turner's style compels me to repeat it by learning to trace and to feel my way from left to right, from background to foreground, from corner to corner, from light to dark, from mast to human limb, from storm to calm, from ship to fish, and back again. The genius of this piece (though I, of course, have no training to be too persuasive or convincing here) is its messiness and unfinishedness, that is, the sensation that the still image provokes of not-yet-being-done, of not-quite-knowing-what-to-think-or-feel, of the utter horror at its inventory of cruelties (human, economic, racial, imperial, nonhuman, natural, etc.) amidst the mundane mechanisms of water, sky, and sun. I have to play the painting, learn it by heart (as I would a poem), in order to allow its singularity to repeat here and now. What the effect of that repetition might be here and now (vs. there and then) will have to wait . . .

Before moving on to Deleuze's seventeenth paragraph (the last of this six-page chunk), I should probably deal with these sentences:

Hegel is denounced [by Kierkegaard and Nietzshce] as the one who proposes an abstract movement of concepts instead of a movement of the Physis and the Psyche. Hegel substitutes the abstract relation of the particular to the concept in general for the true relation of the singular and the universal in the Idea. He thus remains in the reflected element of 'representation', within simple generality. He represents concepts instead of dramatizing Ideas: he creates a false theatre, a false drama, a false movement. We must see how Hegel betrays and distorts the immediate in order to ground his dialectic in that incomprehension, and to introduce mediation in a movement which is no more than that of his own thought and its generalities. (DR 10)

Oh, Hegel. (In a previous post, I try to explain how/why I've become quite enamored with his work...) Ever since teaching just a smidgen of Phenomenology of Spirit, I have struggled with Deleuze's rejection of Hegel (which is so often used as an alibi for more contemporary dismissals of Hegel), partly because I sense so many affinities between them. Regardless of this personal readerly struggle, however, Deleuze does pinpoint the primary conceptual gap between their systems: namely, the difference between mediation (and dialectical analysis/narrative) and repetition (and its theatrical expression). What is made clear in this passage is that Deleuze does not so much object to dialectics as such but, rather, what Hegelian mediation and the Hegelian method make of immediacy itself. The relevant moments here are the earliest chapters/sections of Phenomenology of Spirit and The Science of Logic. In each mammoth work, Hegel makes an identical move: he takes some form of the immediate as his point of departure. In the earlier text he begins with sensation (or sense-perception and sense-certainty); in the latter he begins with the much more abstract "being."

Consider the following passages:

Being, pure being — without further determination. In its indeterminate immediacy it is equal only to itself and also not unequal with respect to another; it has no difference within it, nor any outwardly. If any determination or content were posited in it as distinct, or if it were posited by this determination or content as distinct from an other, it would thereby fail to hold fast to its purity. It is pure indeterminateness and emptiness. — There is nothing to be intuited in it, if one can speak here of intuiting; or, it is only this pure empty intuiting itself. Just as little is anything to be thought in it, or, it is equally only this empty thinking. Being, the indeterminate immediate is in fact nothing, and neither more nor less than nothing [. . .] Pure being and pure nothing are therefore the same. The truth is neither being nor nothing, but rather that being has passed over into nothing and nothing into being — “has passed over,” not passes over. But the truth is just as much that they are not without distinction; it is rather that they are not the same, that they are absolutely distinct yet equally unseparated and inseparable, and that each immediately vanishes in its opposite. Their truth is therefore this movement of the immediate vanishing of the one into the other: becoming, a movement in which the two are distinguished, but by a distinction which has just as immediately dissolved itself. (Science of Logic 21.68-70)

For Hegel, being and nothing synthesize into a "becoming." And this passage, from Phenomenology of Spirit:

Because of its concrete content, sense-certainty immediately appears as the richest kind of knowledge, indeed a knowledge of infinite wealth for which no bounds can be found, either when we reach out into space and time in which it is dispersed, or when we take a bit of this wealth, and by division enter into it. [. . .] But when we look carefully at this pure being which constitutes the essence of this certainty, and which this certainty pronounces to be its truth, we see that much more is involved. An actual sense-certainty is not merely this pure immediacy, but an instance of it. Among the countless differences cropping up here we find in every case that the crucial one is that, in sense-certainty, pure being at once splits up into what we have called the two 'Thises', one 'This' as 'I', and the other 'This' as object. When we reflect on this difference, we find that neither one nor the other is only immediately present in sense-certainty, but each is at the same time mediated: I have this certainty through something else, viz. the thing; and it, similarly, is in sense-certainty through something else, viz. through the 'I'. (§ 91, 92, original emphases).

For Hegel, the only purely immediate thing is neither being nor sense-perception but the way in which both (though perhaps initially considered to be immediate) are "at once" mediated, split, and (upon reflection) experienced by way of some sort of opposed thing (i.e., nothing or an "I"). Deleuze — inspired by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche — makes three objections to this argument. First, it dismisses yet relies upon an undeveloped notion of immediacy (nothing is immediate, in other words, except mediation). Second, it ontologizes mediation or opposition as the primary movement of all events, things, persons, ideas, subjects/objects, etc. Movement only occurs by way of opposition between symmetrical things; all other forms of asymmetrical relationality are derivative. Third, it follows that these two features of Hegel's system constitute a philosophical theatre that is role-less, faceless, and heartless. His stage is populated with concepts (i.e., universals or generalities) that apply to and subsume any and all related particularities (which are then analyzed or understood in readymade ways). Before trying to unpack these three objections, I want to note that Deleuze never really earns this critique in print. He is not — as Jacques Derrida is — a close reader of texts. One will not find in Difference and Repetition (or any of Deleuze's other works) a lengthy critique of Hegel that might compare to Derrida's critiques of Saussure or Lévi-Strauss in Of Grammatology. What follows, then, is speculation rather than summary, an attempt to work through (in a totally self-indulgent way) my own sense of Deleuze's allergy to Hegel's oeuvre.

[1 and 2] An undeveloped notion of immediacy? When I enter Hegel's system, I find his analyses utterly persuasive, even breathtaking. The only immediate thing or phenomenon is mediation itself. I don't think the history of theory and criticism (at least within literary studies) has acknowledged quite how important this insight is, for it offers a perspective from which to criticize research projects that bracket their subjects a bit too tightly. To ask, "How does this work?" without considering how "this" operates with and against "that" or "that" or "that" will produce partial and potentially misguided answers. It is easy to imagine how the problem of where to begin a research project and how wide to make one's field of research and analysis affects a whole range of disciplines from history to medicine to sociology to psychology and so on and on. The truly difficult thing, Hegel teaches us, is to attempt to fashion a double beginning, one that insists on the dialectical relation of this-and-that as primary rather than derivative. Indeed, much of the difficulty of a text like Phenomenology of Spirit is following Hegel's argumentative shuttling back-and-forth between "this" and "that," a perpetual shuttling that, for a generous reader, might very well be a performance of how to compose a nuanced beginning of philosophical, theoretical, or analytical reflection.

So why does Deleuze consider this insight "false"? Why is it a betrayal of immediacy? Perhaps Deleuze has such vitriol and hatred for Hegel not because their works are incommensurable but because he feels Hegel does not go far enough. And this shortcoming, he will admit in later texts, has handicapped whole branches of politics and philosophy that presume that the best place to begin, the best optic through which to view history or art or politics, is entre deux. He does not object to Hegel, however, because he wants to re-prioritize position over opposition, the monological over the dialogical. Rather, he objects to Hegel because he believes that it is the compositional which is primary and immediate and that any analysis of the composition of a singularity or Idea or event or text must, in order to give as whole an expression of its operation as possible, should take the form of a dramatization of multiple roles and elements. A singularity, in other words, does not comprise a single position; it is, as in the case of Turner's painting above, a composition of immediately related and affective components. In short, opposition is not immediate. It is not primary. Rather, it is a derivative, partial, and secondary relation which is itself made possible by a much larger and immediate composition of forces and roles and movements. Though Deleuze does not develop his own conceptualization of the immediacy of a singularity qua composition here, his own opposition to Hegel and to Hegelian mediation/opposition/dialectics only makes sense to me in this way.

[3] Betrayal of immediacy. Opposition disguising composition. These two elements ground a philosophy that seem, for Deleuze, to be remarkably role-less. Despite the dynamic nature of Hegel's texts — which are difficult to paraphrase, excerpt, or analyze, since they presume that their readers have worked through their dialectical movements from beginning to end — they present merely a drama of soulless concepts, of generalities that may, at times, be remarkably useful but that ultimately fall short of explaining experience or the development of "spirit." This critique repeats, in a sense, Marx's reading of Hegel and his Hegelian contemporaries. Deleuze writes,

When Marx also criticizes the abstract false movement or mediation of the Hegelians, he finds himself drawn to an idea, which he indicates rather than develops, an essentially 'theatrical' idea: to the extent that history is theatre, then repetition, along with the tragic and the comic within repetition, forms a condition of movement under which the 'actors' or the 'heroes' produce something effectively new in history. (DR 10)

Referring to the first paragraph of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (the only work of Marx to appear in Difference and Repetition's bibliography [pg. 340]), Deleuze literalizes a figurative point: history unfolds not by way of mediation but by way of a repetition of dramatic compositions, "the first time as high tragedy, the second time as low farce." [Note: Perhaps I'll return to Marx in a later "Slow Reading"; after all, I still need to make some sense of Deleuze's references to Péguy earlier in this section too.]

Even in the case of the master and slave (or lord and bondsman) of a later section of Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel's concepts are remarkably soulless. Even if, as Susan Buck-Morss persuasively suggests in Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, Hegel was inspired to use the master and slave relation as a primary figure in his major work because of the ongoing revolution in Haiti, his method of analysis, which hollows out his concepts of any particularity, has long enabled scholars to overlook the possibility of this historical link. Buck-Morss is scandalized that no one before her had considered a potential relation between Hegel and Haiti, but should we really be surprised that no one had yet considered it? After all, whether or not he had Haiti in mind, Hegel says nothing in the lord and bondsman section about revolution or slave revolt. Indeed, this brief section of the Phenomenology offers very little in the way of explaining or dramatizing the singularity of the Haitian revolution (indeed, compare it with and against C.L.R. James's The Black Jacobins, which, in a sense, reads as a dialectical history, though it approaches the event as a composition of elements, collaborations, situations, conditions, and antagonisms to be mapped rather than abstract oppositions to be represented). Perhaps Deleuze's problem with Hegel is that the tools he provides are still too imprecise, detached, as it were, from the domain of singular events or persons; he provides concepts of master and slave as a means to represent his theory of self-consciousness in compelling ways which, however, fall quite short of expressing the singularity of a master or a slave or the composition of singular master-slave relations or economies. The justification for Hegel's perspective, perhaps, is that the particular and universal are also dialectical, that mediation always occurs between them such that the universal ("master") can only be understood in application to and elucidation by particulars ("plantation owners in Haiti") while particulars contain a component of the universal/conceptual. The universals/concepts according to which we understand a particular thing in the world ("plantation owners in Haiti" as "masters" or "lords") are always already there (always at hand). Hegel's goal, then, is merely to show how those concepts emerge dialectically, through life-and-death struggles between two distinct though inseparable (self-)consciousnesses. On a generous reading, we might say Hegel cares far more about detailing the conditions of revolution's possibility than with slave revolt in itself (hence its remarkable absence from the master-slave section).

(My apologies if this elucidation of Deleuze's lifelong allergy to Hegel seems too reductive. Most scholarly attempts to distinguish Deleuze and Hegel all too often rely upon a misprision of the latter, and I desperately want to avoid such a reliance in my own work. My goal here is, however, is not to "truly" understand Hegel but to try and understand Deleuze's thinking, however misguided or off-the-mark it might appear to others. I'm treading into territories unfamiliar to me...)

To sum up: Immediacy is a quality of composition, not of a single position or dual opposition or mediation. One way to capture the complexities and movements of a composition is a dramatic method — whether in art or philosophy — that introduces a "theatre of repetition," that becomes, in other words, a surface upon which an event or Idea can be said to repeat — as in a mirror — rather than to be represented. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche express their Ideas through this method; readers enter them, become a component in the very thinking and composing of them. In Hegel's work (however mighty it may be), readers trace the cycling of symmetrical concepts from the safe distance of his dialectic. There is no need to consider actual masters and slaves or the more asymmetrical components that affect their relation when reading "The Lord and Bondsman" section . . .

But Kierkegaard and Nietzsche do not offer a singular alternative to Hegel's dialectical method. In the closing paragraph of this section (pp. 5-11), Deleuze sketches out a significant distinction between them: namely, the distinction between leaping and dancing. Deleuze prefers the Dionysian movement because it does away entirely with that element that still commanded Kierkegaard's philosophical thought: "[his] dreams of an alliance between a God and a self rediscovered" (DR 11). In Kierkegaard, repetition — as that "terrible power" (DR 10) which conditions our movement — is "supernatural, to the extent that it is over and above the laws of nature" (DR 11). K's affirmation of the supernatural, Deleuze argues, this attempt to purify repetition of any relation to nature or to art conflicts with those examples he offers his readers. "He can thus invite us," Deleuze writes, "to go beyond all aesthetic repetition, beyond irony and even humour, all the while painfully aware that he offers us only the aesthetic, ironic and humoristic image of such a going-beyond" (11). Nietzsche's affirmation of the dance, rather than the leap, does away with any concern for that which might be beyond "Nature in itself" (Ibid.). On the one hand, then, it is more reserved than Kierkegaard; on the other, it is far more extreme, taking as its point of view "the death of God and the dissolution of the self" who must be obedient to God in Kierkegaard's "theatre of faith" (Ibid.). In a description reminiscent of Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," Deleuze writes, "With Nietzsche, [repetition] is a theatre of unbelief, of movement as Physis, already a theatre of cruelty. Here, humour and irony are indispensable and fundamental operations of nature [. . .] [it is] the most natural will of Nature in itself [. . .] because Nature is by itself superior to its own kingdoms and its own laws" (Ibid.). Repetition is not opposed to natural law (as Deleuze insists earlier) because it is supernatural, then; rather, it is opposed to law because "law" is derivative, secondary, representative, and general. According to Deleuze's work thus far, repetition — as the immediate condition of movement, of theatre, of composition, of play, of tragedy, of comedy, of asymmetrically related components, of singularity — is the immanent, mindless, and "vertiginous" prime mover (Ibid.). Look back at the Turner's painting . . .

Next time: Deleuze turns his attention to "representation" and "concept."

Gilles Deleuze, "What Is a Creative Act?" (1987)

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