Art as Apprenticeship of Signs

by Beth Metcalf

In Proust and Signs chapter 1, Deleuze describes Proust’s types of signs.  The first type is the signs of worldliness.  The worldly signs stand for action and thought.  They claim to be arbitrary.  They do not represent something else.  They are empty signs.  The second type of sign is that of love.  These signs individualize the one who bears the sign.  The beloved one expresses a possible world that is Other, unknowable, and without communication; like Leibniz’s monads without windows.  Jealousy is the law of love because, in the other world that excludes me, I am an object among others.  The signs of love are deceptive.  They conceal what they express.  The third world is that of sensuous signs.  The quality of the sensuous sign no longer appears to be a property of an object.  There is an essence in common with a different object that must be deciphered.  But the sensuous signs are still inadequate.  They fill us with joy, but they are still material signs that seem to actualize a world of spatial extensity.  Time is still spatialized. 

Prior to the Search there are worldly signs, signs of love, and sensuous signs at the level of the individual.  They close into the Logos of an intelligence that comes before.  Logos is a prior intelligible image of what is thought to be possible.  It is an abstract knowledge that unites faculties in the maintenance of structural identity.  However in PS chapter 8, Deleuze tells us that Proust’s world is an antilogos.  Intelligence comes after a temporal apprenticeship of signs.  This reaches an essence (Deleuze’s term is ‘sense’) that is not a presupposed Image that comes before.  Intelligence comes after a disjoining of the faculties.  Thought is creative when it comes after an encounter with signs in a pre-individual and incorporeal construction of sense. The Logos is given as an Image of Thought that comes before.  But antilogos shows us that the given comes after. Disparate intensive coupling is that by which the given is given as diverse (Difference & Repetition 222).

In PS chapter 7, Deleuze describes the categories of the Search when intelligence comes after.  They are not the categories of representation where intelligence comes before.  Categories of the Search are implication and explication, envelopment and development.  Meaning is implicated or enveloped in the sign.  Signs emanate from sensuous qualities that are like containers.  The container attributes its quality to the contained things it designates.  Then the sign explicates and develops when it unfolds in an image.  Essence complicates sign and meaning, putting the one in the other to determine their distance and relation.  Sign is the involution of meaning.  Meaning is the development of the sign.  Essence (Deleuze’s ‘sense’) inheres in an expression (meaning implicated or enveloped in the sign) and is attributed to a thing (signs that explicate and develop in an image) without merging with either.  If an essence were to merge with either sign or meaning, then everything would be totalized into one Dogmatic Image according to representational categories of conceptual identity.  According to Deleuze (PS 90), Proust’s essence is a “third term” that complicates the sign and meaning, enveloping the one in the other.  Essence is sufficient reason for relation between sign and meaning. 

As Deleuze says Expressionism in Philosophy 335, “In short, what is expressed everywhere intervenes as a third term that transforms dualities.  Beyond real causality, beyond ideal representation, what is expressed is discovered as a third term that makes distinctions infinitely more real and identity infinitely better thought.  What is expressed is sense: deeper that the relation of causality, deeper than the relation of representation.”  [Emphasis added]

With the fourth type of signs in art, the apprentice comes to understand what could not have been understood before.  The signs of art are pre-individual and immaterial.  Only at the end of the Search does the apprentice understand that intelligence come after an interpretation of signs.  Only at the end does the apprentice understand that material meaning had already incarnated a dematerialized essence.  The world of art reacts on all the other signs which had already incarnated immaterial-ideal essence in material meaning.  Art is the production of objects and essences never experienced before.  Whereas the first three types of signs appeared to lead to material actualization, the signs of art counter-actualize the event in the time of Aion.  It is present without thickness that endlessly subdivides still-future and already-past.  The material sensuous signs point us toward incorporeal essences that inhere in artistic expressions and are attributed to objects as they were never experienced before.  Signs of art are ultimate dematerialized signs that reach spiritualized essences.      

In PS chapter 9, Deleuze describes what the apprentice finally understands at the end of the Search when the signs of art react on all the other types of signs.  The ‘worldly signs’ now take on the figure of open boxes in the incommensurability of content and container.  Essence inheres in a container and is attributed to its designated content.  The container encases, envelops, and implies its content.  Things, persons, and boxes are containers with contents that have no common measure.  Heterogeneous fragments of content are explicated, unfolded and developed in incommensurable containers.  The task of the apprentice is to learn why someone becomes differentiated as part of one world and not another.  The second figure in the image of sealed vessels is the complication between wholes and parts.  It complicates the coexistence of non-communicating parts.  Sealed vessels mark the opposition of parts to non-corresponding wholes.  The ‘deceptive signs of love’ in the figure of ‘sealed vessels’ express a possible singular Other world that cannot be known.  To love is to explicate and develop unknown worlds that are enveloped in the loved one.  Jealousy sequesters and individuates the loved one.  It is the meaning of love’s signs.  The two figures of open boxes and sealed vessels comingle because each has its double inside the other.  I take this virtual coexistence to be what Deleuze calls (DR206) the ‘perplication’ of ‘varieties of differential relations’ (open boxes) and ‘distribution of singular points’ (sealed vessels).  Proust’s third figure of ‘sensuous signs’ are triggered by involuntary memory.  They create an internal resonance between two series -- past and present.  The sensuous signs create new connections without unifying many parts into one whole.  Intensive individuation emerges as coupling of series with internal resonance. 

Involuntary memory of the sensuous signs fills us with joy, but it is still too material.  However, the involuntary memory of art’s incorporeal signs reaches an internal difference of telescoping distances, creating new essences of time regained.  The essence inheres in an incorporeal sign but is attributed to an object as never experienced.  As long as signs were at a corporeal level, they were still related according to the old structuralism*.  However, signs of art are incorporeal spiritualized essence and de-materialized substance that reach the new structure*.  In the Conclusion to Part II, Deleuze understands Proust to point toward the new structure that is not at the level of signified/signifier of the old structuralism.  The narrator is madman, a universal schizophrenic, who sends transversal threads across the heterogeneous series as intensive powers of his organ-less body.  The narrator is a machine of the Search who has no voluntary use of faculties.  He does not function as a subject.  He cannot see, perceive, remember, or understand because there is no image that comes before.  The narrator is an undifferentiated body without organs that opens boxes and seals vessels.  He is a spider that responds only to signs of disparate intensity.  The narrator has only involuntary sensibility, memory, and thought of an organ-less body in its reaction to signs.  He is a spider who responds only to the vibrations of its web.  He responds only to signs of his schizoid universe.  He is the transversal that opens and closes the cells and vessels.  Deleuze sees Albertine (vertical passional series) and Charlus (the horizontal paranoid series) as the two regimes of madness that arise from the two “accidents” of the old structuralism*.  In the passional series essence merges with the signifier.  In the paranoid series essence merges with signified signs.  But the narrator is the schizoid diagonal-transversal that cuts across all series.  This produces singular use that allows the work of art to function.  It does not produce universal truth.  Narrator is the new structure* that lets the empty square circulate freely.  He opens the boxes of non-personal individuation.  He closes vessels of pre-individual singularities.  He crosses all series to let them communicate transversally.  Only at the end of the Search does the narrator know he is this spider through which time is regained.  Time is the dimension of Proust’s narrator.  The narrator explicates and unfolds the content of open containers.  The narrator (without unity of self) is choice of non-communicating vessels.  Non-spatial, incorporeal distances are constituted.  Lost time is the forgetting that creates disjunction.  Regained time creates new continuities.  New conjunctions of the disjoined are the creation of never experienced essences.  Time lost intertwines with time regained.  It is the real distinction of all singularity that is said as the whole of time.  The narrator is the univocity of time. 

In PS chapter 2, Deleuze tells us that Proust’s truth is not an abstract generality.  Truth is explication of signs in their temporal development.  Under the violence of deceptive signs, the jealous one is forced into the search for truth that has an essential relation to time.  Encounter of an unknown Other forces the Search.  A violent encounter forces the necessity of thought.  Voluntary memory only gives truths of a prior conceptual form.  Voluntary truths represent only the abstract possibilities of Logos that comes before.  Then truth lacks the necessity of encounter.  Worldly signs, signs of love, and even sensuous signs, are signs of lost or wasted time.  This is because they are material signs that come before a violent encounter unhinges the faculties and forces us to think.  However, when intelligence comes after an apprenticeship of signs the apprentice learns that all types of signs point toward immaterial truths.  In the repetition of series of loves, each loved one made us feel pain.  But the series of loves turns to joy when intelligence comes after.  The involuntary memory of sensuous signs regains time at the heart of time lost.  The involuntary memory in signs of art regains time and reacts on all other types of signs.  Immaterial essences are incarnated in matter.  All participate in, and react to, each other.  Time is regained in incorporeal signs of art. 

In PS chapter 3, Deleuze says that objective recognition is our natural habit.  It is the assumption that each sign designates an object it signifies.  When intelligence comes before finding an internal difference, essence still merges with either its sign or its meaning.  There is no encounter.  However when intelligence comes after, time is no longer already spatialized in a conceptual image.  Then there is nomadic distribution into heterogeneous series.  That which bears the sign is immaterial milieu that never lets an essence merge with its subject or object, sign or meaning, signifier or signified.  Then the incorporeal signs can fill without filling the empty square*.  Signs of art reach the incorporeal field of sense that never merges with signifieds or signifiers.  Art reaches the field of alogical and immaterial essences.  (PS38) “It is the essence that constitutes the sign insofar as it is irreducible to the object emitting it; it is the essence that constitutes the meaning insofar as it is irreducible to the subject apprehending it”.  Signs of art reach dimensions never experienced before.

In the Conclusion to Part I, we are told that the good-will of the philosopher-friend discovers merely abstract truths.  Voluntary memory hinges the faculties together in merely possible truths that come before.  Perception, memory, and imagination are contingent.  Ideas of pure intelligence have only logical truth of a prior possibility.  Their choice is not necessary.  But the sign is object of a forced encounter.  It is experienced as a violent threat to the subjective unity and the objective identity of faculties.  Deleuze describes forces that cannot be conceived, remembered, or imagined.  They are disparate forces of intensity that can only be sensed.  There is an involuntary exercise as each faculty discovers its own limits and necessity of its own singular essences.  Their essence is sufficient reason that unites the sign with its own meaning.  Intelligence comes after.  Sign and meaning are partial objects disjoined and conjoined in new essences never experienced before. 

At the end of the Search, the apprentice understands all types of signs in a new way.  A singular individuating essence is produced by a differenciator that makes two series coexist and resonate.  Production of differentiated partial objects is complementary to the resonances of intensive individuation.  Forced movement (DR117-8) is produced by a dark precursor, or esoteric object, that relates heterogeneous series and disparate things.  These resonating series have nothing to do with the horizontal (syntagmatic-metonymic) where essence merges with signifieds.  They have nothing to do with the vertical (paradigmatic-metaphoric) where essence merges with the signifier.  Rather they reach transversal diagonals.  That is, they are a new structure that is distinct from the old structuralism*.  The diagonal-transversal creates essences that never merge with either signifier or signified, words or things.  Proust’s signs are not parts of a whole, original or produced.  Signs are partial objects that have no prior totality or lost unity.  Parts do not develop with a common rhythm or speed.  Essence is individuating singular viewpoint that is the third term between sign and meaning.  Art deciphers incongruous temporal signs without a transcendent unifying viewpoint.  Art is (PS115) “to gather up the ultimate fragments, to sweep along at different speeds all the pieces, each one of which refers to a different whole, to no whole at all, or to no other whole than that of style.”

In PS chapter 10, Deleuze lays out three levels of the Proustian theory.  The first level of the Search is heterosexual love as oppositional relation of man and woman which homogenizes the original series.  It can only reproduce its own homogeneity.  The second level decomposes that first level into two heterogeneous series that are still too material.  Each person is a hermaphrodite that cannot fertilize itself.  The two sexes are still at the level of individuals where intelligence comes before.  (PS10-11) “The [original] Hermaphrodite is not a being capable of reproducing itself.  Far from uniting the sexes, it separates them.  It is the source from which there continually proceed the two divergent homosexual series, that of Sodom and that of Gomorrah……The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart”.  But at the third level there are male and female parts of a man or woman that relate to male and female parts of another man or woman (as partial objects).  The male or female part of a man or woman relate to the female or male part of another woman or man in aberrant transversal relations between non-communicating vessels.  The third transexual level is a world of transversal aberrant communication, like the wasp and orchid.  A third party (an intervening ‘sense’) fertilizes the hermaphrodite.  At the level of the individual, there is coexistence of series that do not communicate because they are still too material.  But the transexual is the pre-individual diagonal-transversal across series.  In the fragmented universe of the Search, there is no unifying or totalizing Logos to be regained.  The antilogos is a new law of incommensurable fragments.  There are no longer merely non-communicating vessels, but transversal unities between open boxes that cannot be totalized.  The intensive partial objects of one world may be forced into another.  Proust, unlike Leibniz, never restores a pre-established harmony of viewpoints in a same world.  The Search is a telescoping of infinite distances.  It unites intensive fragments of disparate worlds.  Law of the Search is the antilogos of partial objects. 

Proust asks, ‘How can we preserve the past as it is in itself?’  In PS chapter 5, Deleuze notes the secondary role of memory in Proust.  Voluntary memory is merely an association of resemblances in an image that comes before.  Voluntary memory is relation between an actual present and a present that it has been and is now past.  Presents pass in succession in this time Deleuze calls ‘Chronos’.  The worldly signs and signs of love are material signs of voluntary memory that come too late.  Intelligence comes before.  The involuntary memory of sensuous signs is still too material.  Sensuous signs are superior to worldly signs and signs love, but they are inferior to signs of art.  Involuntary memories of sensuous signs are bad metaphors within a general material structure of analogy.  They prepare us for art.  But signs of art reach a new kind of ‘metaphor’ in its ontological sense.  Metaphor must first find a common essence in an artistic style before its singular use can be revealed.  Signs of art reach the being of the past as it is in itself.  Art’s involuntary memory reaches the virtual coexistence of past and present – the time Deleuze calls ‘Aion’. 

At the end of the Search, the apprentice understands all the signs in a new way.  Through a series of successive loves, essence becomes more and more general.  Essences become incarnated as singular worlds, each with its own general law that cannot be totalized with others.  Each love is different in relation to other loves and to itself.  Each love repeats the law of the series.  Love is serial repetition that may approach its own singular essence of artistic style --- its own singular law of generality --- its own singular use.  The past virtually coexists with the present it has been.  The present is past at the same time as it is present.  The moment coexists with itself as present and its own past.  It is past that was never experienced but preserves a singular essence of time for us.  That is, it preserves a singular essence that unites meaning with its own sign.  Intelligence comes after.  Art reaches new continuities and creation of qualities never imagined before.  It reaches the joy of time regained in new truths never experienced.  With voluntary memory, there is merely an extrinsic relation between separable impressions (that in separating do not change in nature).  But involuntary memory of inseparable past and present moments preserves a singular essence (that in dividing must change nature).  There is a common affective quality of internalized difference in the immanent signs of art.  Inseparable relations constitute an internal difference of singular-universal essence --- truth as it was never experienced.  With the signs of art time is regained.

In PS chapter 11, we are told that the modern work of art is a machine that functions.  It is use, not meaning.  It is a machine that produces truths.  Violent encounter unhinges the faculties and produces new meanings of singular use.  A faculty is chosen under the constraint of signs and produces meaning --- a general law with its own singular essence.  There is no Totalizing Truth, but orders of produced truths.  The Search consists of three machines.  Habitus is psychic connections as the effect of coupling in series of excitations.  Eros individuates by intensive resonance of spatio-temporal dynamisms.  Thanatos is forced movement that changes the essence.  Time is regained by universal alteration and catastrophic death – difference and repetition.  Each machine produces an order of truth as an effect of time --- partial objects of lost time, resonances of time regained, and lost time as the condition of the amplitude of forced movement in time regained.  Forced movement dilates time infinitely as resonance contracts time.  It is univocity that fills the whole of being to different degrees of intensity.

In PS chapter 12, Deleuze asks how the three orders produce form without totalization.  Partial objects of the Search are fragmented and partitioned without lack.   Deleuze writes (PS 161), “Eternally partial objects, open boxes and sealed vessels, swept on by time without forming a whole or presupposing one, without lacking anything in the quartering, and denouncing in advance every organic unity….”  Time is not a whole.  Time prevents the whole from forming.  Wholes and parts are the effect of machines creating temporary uses in non-communicating fragments.  Viewpoints are essences of individuated worlds without unity or totality.  There is unity of multiplicity --- a whole of its own partial objects --- all real difference is said as singular universe.  The style of a work of art explicates signs at different rhythms and rates of development.  Style telescopes distant partial objects, bringing them into contiguity to produce an essence never experience before.  It has no unity of an already spatialized time that comes before.  The dimension of transversality establishes a singular essence of an artist’s style.  It conjoins its own distances.  The univocality of time has the power to unify its own partial objects.  Style does not receive its unity from a prior image.  Artistic style is the formal structure of a world that comes after an apprenticeship of signs.   

Deleuze says (PS40), “As long as we discover a sign’s meaning in something else, matter still subsists, refractory to spirit.  On the contrary, art gives us the true unity: unity of an immaterial sign and of an entirely spiritual meaning.  The essence is precisely this unity of sign and meaning as it is revealed in the work of art.”  Essence revealed in art is singular internal difference.  There is not an extrinsic difference between objects.  Difference is really distinct worlds of viewpoint, ontologically singular and filling the whole of being to different degrees of intensity.  Each expression of a really different world does not exist outside its expression.  (PS43) “But the world expressed is not identified with the subject; it is distinguished from the subject precisely as essence is distinguished from existence, even from the subject’s own existence.  Essence does not exist outside the subject expressing it, but it is expressed as the essence not of the subject but of Being, or of the region of Being that is revealed to the subject”.  An intensive-incorporeal essence individuates objects and subjects.  Individuals do not constitute the world, but essence singularizes the individual and its own world.  Essences are enveloped in what they individuate.  Style individuates the substance that is incarnated in art.  Style singularizes worlds of real difference by intelligence that comes after an apprenticeship of signs.  Essence is intensive singular difference that is never totalized into one generality of “the” world.  Essence singularizes meaning.  Art de-materializes substances.  Art is univocal. 

*See my article The Old and the New Structure for explanation of the two “accidents” of the old structure, and for the distinction between the old structuralism and the new transversal structure.      

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