Deleuze Versus Hegel

by Beth Metcalf


There are those who still understand Deleuze to say that individuals and persons must be fixed and numerically distinct substances.  They say there must be negative forces of opposition among these individual singularities.  They threaten that if there are not these structural-relational forces of negative difference, then we would fall into an undifferentiated black nothingness without any difference at all.  How many times does Deleuze tell us that his ‘difference’ has nothing to do with this alternative!?  Deleuze warns us time and again of an illusory alternative that Representational thought presents to us:  either there is difference which is a difference of negation (opposition or limitation), or we have to settle for an undifferenciated abyss (a black nothingness).  Deleuze rejects this alternative of either undifferentiated unformed matter or differentiated formed matter. Rather, to find 'difference', we must reach a field of unformed matter that is itself, differentiated..


Deleuze tells us that his philosophy of difference refuses the alternative of infinite representation.   (Difference & Repetition 52) “We refuse the general alternative proposed by infinite representation: the indeterminate, the indifferent, the undifferenciated or a difference already determined as negation, implying and enveloping the negative (by the same token, we also refuse the particular alternative: negative of limitation or negative of opposition).  In its essence, difference is the object of affirmation or affirmation itself.  In its essence, affirmation is itself difference.”  


Deleuze tells us that Representational thought always threatens us with this (DR268-9)  “illusory choice:  either being is full positivity, pure affirmation, but undifferenciated being, without difference; or being includes differences, it is Difference and there is non-being, a being of the negative.  All these antinomies are connected, and depend upon the same illusion.  We must say both that being is full positivity and pure affirmation, and that there is (non)-being which is the being of the problematic, the being of problems and questions, not the being of the negative.”  Therefore, Deleuze rejects the illusory alternative of Representation.  He denies that either difference must be negative, or there can be positive being with no difference at all.  Deleuze says difference must be both positive and affirmative (i.e., the (non)-being of the problematic).  (DR277) “The ultimate, external illusion of representation is this illusion that results from all its internal illusions – namely, that groundlessness should lack differences, when in fact it swarms with them.  What, after all, are Ideas, with their constitutive multiplicity, if not these ants which enter and leave through the fracture in the I?” 


(DR190-191) Deleuze says that Hegel threatened Schelling with the undifferenciated “night where all cows are black”.  (DR276) Deleuze says that “Representation, especially when it becomes infinite [like Hegel’s], is imbued with a presentiment of groundlessness.  Because it has become infinite in order to include difference within itself, however, it represents groundlessness as a completely undifferenciated abyss, a universal lack of difference, an indifferent black nothingness.  For representation began by connecting individuation to the form of the I and the matter of the self…For representation, every individuality must be personal (I) and every singularity individual (Self).  Where one no longer says I, individuation also ceases, and where individuation ceases, so too does all possible singularity.  Since groundlessness lacks both individuality and singularity, it is therefore necessarily represented as devoid of any difference.”  How can Deleuze say this any more clearly?  Representation (especially Infinite Representation) claims there can be no possible individuation, singularity, or difference unless we remain at the level of a fixed I/Self system of Representation---a system where every individuality is the personal I and the individual Self is a numerically distinct singularity.  Deleuze rejects this claim. 


(Logic of Sense 102-3) “We seek to determine an impersonal and pre-individual transcendental field, which does not resemble the corresponding empirical fields, and which nevertheless is not confused with an undifferentiated depth.  This field cannot be determined as that of a consciousness.”  Consciousness is merely the synthesis of the personal I and the individual Self.  However, the transcendental field is neither individual nor personal, but emissions of pre-individual singularities nomadically distributed on an unconscious surface.  Singularities are the transcendental events which are the source of genesis of individuals and persons which are not actualized into fixed and rigid entities.  “We can not accept the alternative which thoroughly compromises psychology, cosmology, and theology: either singularities already comprised in individuals and person, or the undifferentiated abyss.  Only when the world, teaming with anonymous and nomadic, impersonal and pre-individual singularities, opens up, do we tread at last on the field of the transcendental.”  Therefore, Deleuze’s transcendental field is pre-individual and impersonal.  It is not a field of negative structural-relational forces.  But neither is it to be confused with an undifferentiated depth (a black nothingness).  This field can’t be confused with consciousness which would be merely a synthesis of unification of the form of the I or a point of view of the Self.  Rather, Deleuze’s transcendental field is a nomadic distribution of singularity-events.  With Deleuze’s Univocity there is no sedentary distribution of subjects or objects.  Pre-individual singularities in their nomadic distribution preside over the genesis of the real distinction of actualized worlds---disparate varieties of worlds that are individuated with real difference.  Singularities are not imprisoned in the form of the I and the matter of the Self.  Now, really distinct worlds are individuated—not among sedentary partitions of well-determined beings—but repartitioned nomadically.  These really different individuations come into actualization in disparate (not merely diverse) worlds.  That is, they are actualized in worlds that are really different, but ontologically singular.  Individuals are actualized in fluid assemblages of individuation open to the pre-individual source.


(LoS140-41) “No, singularities are not imprisoned within individuals and persons; and one does not fall into an undifferentiated ground, into groundless depth, when one undoes the individual and the person.  The impersonal and pre-individual are the free nomadic singularities….”  (LoS106) “…common to metaphysics and transcendental philosophy is, above all this alternative which they both impose on us: either an undifferentiated ground, a groundlessness, formless nonbeing, or an abyss without differences and without properties, or a supremely individuated Being and an intensely personalized Form.  Without this Being or this Form you will have only chaos…In other words, metaphysics and transcendental philosophy reach an agreement to think about those determinable singularities only which are already imprisoned inside a supreme Self or a superior I….”  (LoS107) “Nietzsche’s discovery lies elsewhere….neither individual nor personal but rather singular.  Being not an undifferentiated abyss, it leaps from one singularity to another, casting always the dice belonging to the same case, always fragmented and formed again in each throw….The subject is this free anonymous, and nomadic singularity which traverses men as well as plants and animals independently of the matter of their individuation and the forms of their personality.”  


(LoS177)  “Incompatibility is born only with individuals, persons, and worlds in which events are actualized, but not between events themselves or between their a-cosmic, impersonal, and pre-individual singularities.  Incompatibility does not exist between two events, but between an event and the world or the individual which actualizes another event as divergent.”  This means that consistency of an event is constituted only by the inseparability of its components; because, in dividing, an event necessarily changes in nature.  It does NOT mean that actualization freezes individuals, persons, and worlds into rigid structure of compatibility or incompatibility.  We have the being of the negative, or difference as negation/lack only if we do not reach that transcendental field of pre-individual singularity.  If we remain only on the level of individuals and persons, then we remain in a fixed sedentary distribution of individuals.  To reach Deleuze’s difference, we must reach a transcendental field where there are no rigid or numerically distinct individuals or persons, objects or subjects---where there are no numerically distinct substances.  The multiplicity of Univocity is not the Many/One opposition of Representation.  The Many/One opposition is merely the variability of one totalizable identity.  On the other hand, multiplicity is the singularity of real-virtual forces that all interpenetrate to form really distinct individuations.  Multiplicity is the real distinction of individuation.  But multiplicities have nothing to do with numerically distinct substantial entities, because they are all ontologically singular and said in one sense.   


Some may say that when singularities come into actualization, then they become fixed and numerically distinct individuals.  However, this is not what Deleuze is saying.  Individuals are mistaken to be numerically distinct substances only when they are cut off from their virtual-real source.  If actualized individuals close into fixed and numerically distinct entities, then this confuses Deleuze’s actualization with Representation which is “cut off” from the transcendental field.  Representation confuses the ‘virtual’ with the ‘possible’.  (DR207) “Forms of the negative do indeed appear in actual terms and real relations, but only in so far as these are cut off from the virtuality which they actualize…”  Deleuze’s actualization is an actualization of the virtual, not the possibilities of an invariant negative structure.  This virtual-real is the field of the singularity-event.  It is the field of transcendental pre-individual singularity.  It is where singularity has no incompatibility.  All real distinction is disparately actualized in worlds that can never be totalized, because they are individuated differently.  They share no common space-time.  They constitute no return to the SAME I/Self system of Representation.  When there is no numerical distinction of individuals, there can finally be real distinction.  Of course, with actualization, we do have fragile and temporary representational “uses” (LoS144-147) of personal I and the individual Self.  However, these must never become closed and cut off from the transcendental field.  They must always remain open in eternal return to the fractured I and the dissolved self.  They must never be closed into a rigid I/Self system of Representation.


(D&R28) “Indifference has two aspects: the undifferenciated abyss, the black nothingness…..but also the white nothingness….unconnected determinations like scattered members:  a head without a neck, an arm without a shoulder, eyes without brows…..Is difference intermediate between these two extremes?  Or is it not rather the only extreme…..?”  Therefore, we see that Deleuze rejects any alternative between an undifferentiated black night of unformed matter and a chaotic white night of formed matter.  (A Thousand Plateaus 70) “the plane of consistency….is in no way an undifferentiated aggregate of unformed matters, but neither is it a chaos of formed matters of every kind…..there is no hint in all of this of a chaotic white night or an undifferentiated black night.” And again (ATP 171) “You can make any list of part-objects you want: hand, breast, mouth, eyes…..It’s still Frankenstein.  What we need to consider is not fundamentally organs without bodies, or the fragmented body; it is the body without organs, animated by various intensive movements [of deterritorialization]….”  The white night is the “idealist conception of the partial object” (Anti-Oedipus 44) where partial objects are related to a totality (original or produced).  However, Deleuze (and Guattari) tell us that (A-O 47) “A partial object is not representative.”  For Deleuze (and Guattari) there is no longer any oppositional structure of partial objects.  The Oedipal structure of lack is the white night in opposition to the undifferentiated black night.  (A-O 73) “That is indeed what disturbs us, this recasting of history and this “lack” attributed to partial objects.”  Deleuze’s ‘difference’ has nothing to do with the alternative between a structural concept of partial objects (white night) or undifferentiated nothingness (black night).


Hegel’s Infinite Representation is still a conceptual image of what is thought to be possibly real --- outside of which everything is thought to be impossible (i.e. nothingness).  Hegel sees a conceptual image as all-inclusive possibility of what can be ‘real’.  But D shows us that this oppositional image, with its alternative all or nothing, is too limiting.  If we see everything in Hegel’s terms, we see only the alternative of all or nothing.  That is, everything is either this image of possibility or there is “nothingness”.  The alternative presented by Hegel still confuses the virtual with the possible, thereby imposing a limiting image of possibility onto the real.  D explains the problem (D&R 211), “Every time we pose the question in terms of possible and real, we are forced to conceive of existence as a brute eruption, a pure act or leap which always occurs behind our backs and is subject to a law of all or nothing [emphasis added].  What difference can there be between the existent [conceived as real] and the non-existent [virtual conceived as possible] if the non-existent is already possible, already included in the concept and having all the characteristics that the concept confers upon it as a possibility? …… Difference can no longer be anything but the negative determined by the concept: either the limitation imposed by possibles upon each other in order to be realized, or the opposition of the possible to the reality of the real….”  Therefore, D is saying that if we think in terms of the alternative (existent-all versus nonexistent-nothing), then we are still confusing the virtual with the possible. 


There seems to be a common opinion that Deleuze (in spite of his constant denial) can be read under the presuppositions of Hegel.  These presuppositions include negative-oppositional ( i.e. structural-relational) forces, singularity at the level of the fully constituted individual (or a totalizing structure of partial objects), difference as merely the infinite variability of the concept, a transcendental field at the level of consciousness, and the threat of an undifferentiated abyss.  In contrast to these presuppositions, Deleuze tells us over and over that his forces are positive and affirmative, singularity is pre-individual, difference is not infinite variability of the concept (it is without concept), the transcendental field is not at the level of consciousness, and the (non-)being of unformed matter IS differentiated.  Hegel’s Infinite Representation says that there are several numerically distinct individuals, because it sees individuals (or persons) as units of singularity.  With Infinite Representation, being is said in several numerically distinct senses, and that of which it is said is the infinite variability of conceptual identity without real distinction.  In contrast, Univocity says being in one sense without numerical distinction of substances, and that of which it is said is difference of real distinction.  Therefore, Infinite Representation such as Hegel’s is not at all similar to Deleuze’s Univocity. 


Deleuze keeps telling us that his forces are NOT negative and that singularities are NOT imprisoned in the individual.  But those who understand Deleuze by way of Hegel still say “things are not like that”.  They still insist that there really ARE numerically distinct individuals that are always in a relational structure of negative forces.  Or, they say it is not possible to escape the necessity of negation/lack of individual singularities.  It is so very difficult to break representational mind-sets---to get outside common sense intuitions about ‘how things are’ or ‘how things can possibly be’!  We can’t understand Deleuze’s critique of Hegel until we reach his plane of immanence/consistency.  When we remain on Hegel’s plane then, of course, we will not find consistency in Deleuze! 

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