Parallelism and the Syntheses

by Beth Metcalf




Deleuze and Guattari say (Anti-Oedipus p.326-327) “…The body without organs is the immanent substance, in the most Spinozist sense of the word; and the partial objects are like its ultimate attributes, which belong to it precisely insofar as they are really distinct and cannot on this account exclude or oppose one another….”  Therefore, they are telling us that it is by way of their Spinozism that they find real distinction without exclusion or opposition. This is the Univocity of real distinction that is ontologically one Substance.  If we remain within conceptual possibility that cannot find its way beyond exclusion and opposition, then we are still caught within the forces of Representational Thought.   


It is through Spinoza’s parallelism of heterogeneous attributes that all really distinct correspondences are included without any opposition at all.  With what Deleuze refers to as Spinoza’s “parallelism”, we find the heterogeneity which allows us to reach the real distinction of qualified substances that are ontologically one.  With parallelism (Expressionism in Philosophy 107) “…there is an identity of order or correspondence between modes of different attributes.”  Furthermore, (EiP109) “…the modes of different attributes have not only the same order and the same connection, but the same being; they are the same things…” Attributes are really distinct, parallel series that have no causal action between them.  There is no causal connection between the modes of one attribute upon modes of another.  There is identity of order and connection between modes of different attributes.  Because attributes constitute one substance, corresponding modes differing in attribute form one modification. 


Deleuze’s Spinozist parallelism allows no dualistic opposition of signifier/signified, subject/object, idea/thing, form/content.  Indeed, the real distinction of parallelism allows no opposition or exclusion at all.  With Spinoza’s parallelism, given a certain qualified substance (i.e., given a certain unity of modification), modes of different attributes have the same order and connection.  But there is no causality between the modes of different attributes.  Modes of really distinct attributes have ontological unity or identity of being.  Modes of attributes having the same connection and order are the same modification.  They are the same being---the same thing.  Since there is no dualistic opposition, there is no need for a transcendent ground of agreement.  There is only Immanence.  Because attributes constitute the essence of one Substance, corresponding modes differing in attribute form the same unity of modification.  Modification is ontologically one being of corresponding modes differing in attribute.  (However, it should be noted that modes having another order and connection form a different unity of modification.  They qualify Substance in a really different multiplicity.  But all really distinct multiplicities are included in ontologically one Substance without opposition.)


The Powers in Ontological and Epistemological Parallelism


However, Spinoza’s parallelism as described by Deleuze, is not merely the parallel series of the attributes (Thought and Extension as the only two we know).  It is also the parallelism of two powers.  The first is the power of existing and acting.  The second is the power of thinking and knowing.  There is equality of these two powers in parallelism.  There is ontological parallelism which is constituted by the parallelism of the attributes.  It is the first power.  Then, there is epistemological parallelism which is constituted by the parallelism of both powers.  Ontological parallelism is the parallel attributes as constituting the essence of Substance.  Epistemological parallelism is the parallel powers as the attributes contain the essences of the individuating modes.


The ontological point of view: one and the same modification of substance is expressed by the corresponding modes of different attributes.  The epistemological point of view:  Given a mode in some attribute there is an idea in the attribute of Thought corresponding to it.  One and the same individual is expressed by a given mode (in whatever attribute) and its corresponding idea (in the attribute of Thought).  Deleuze says, (EiP114) “The epistemological viewpoint, then, may be stated thus: one and the same individual is expressed by a given mode and by the corresponding idea.  But the ontological viewpoint thus: one and the same modification is expressed by all corresponding modes differing in attribute.”


Therefore, Deleuze sees in Spinoza not merely the parallelism of attributes (ontological parallelism), but also parallelism of two powers (epistemological parallelism). With the parallel series of powers, there is independence of the series of things and the series of ideas.  Ideas do not represent things. Incorporeal ideas are attributed to corporeal things. Ideas do not refer to things, but intervene through expressive transformation.


Just as there was no causality between modes differing in attributes (in ontological parallelism), so also there is no causal connection between ideas and things (in epistemological parallelism).  There is equality of attributes and equality of powers.  There is no causality between different attributes or between different powers, but there is equality of being.  Just as there is identity of being between corresponding modes of different attributes, so also there is identity of being between the form of things and objective adequacy of ideas.  (Eip117) “…what follows formally (that is to say, in this or that attribute) from God’s infinite nature [ontological parallelism], is the same as what follows objectively from the idea of God [epistemological parallelism].”  The modification of substance is the same being as the individuating ideas.  That is, the univocity of attributes constitutes the modification of substance and contains the individuation of the modes.  The two powers, like the attributes, are really distinct and ontologically one.  Attributes are univocal forms in the two powers of parallelism.  Attributes are common forms that constitute the modifications of substance and contain the individuations of modes.  Attributes are common forms in the two powers of parallelism.  But it is because the attributes are common forms that now the modifications of Substance can be really different from the individuation of the modes.  


Epistemological parallelism says that, to every mode in whatever attribute there will correspond an idea in the attribute of Thought.  (EiP120) “The idea of God thus represents all formally or really distinct attributes, to the extent that a distinct soul or idea corresponds to each.  The same attributes that are formally distinguished in God [ontological parallelism] are objectively distinguished in the idea of God [epistemological parallelism].  But this idea is nonetheless absolutely unitary [ontologically one], like the substance constituted by all the attributes.”  Therefore, the powers are, like the attributes, really distinct and ontologically one.  There is identity of being between objects and ideas.  (EiP117) “One and the same thing is formal in the attribute on which it depends within the power of existing and acting, and objective in the idea of God on which it depends within the power of thinking.  A mode of an attribute and the idea of that mode are one and the same thing expressed in two ways, under two powers.” 


Deleuze says (EiP124-5) that the first privilege of the attribute of Thought is that it contains modes formally that represent the attributes taken objectively.  There is an objective distinction between ideas that equals the real formal distinction between attributes.  Therefore, the distinction between the ideas of epistemological parallelism will not merely be an objective distinction.   Rather, this distinction will be both objective and formal.  Since every mode, in whatever attribute, is represented by an idea in the attribute of Thought, the objective ideas will have formal distinction.  “Given a substantial modification, it will be expressed only once in each of the other attributes, but an infinity of times in infinite understanding, and, therefore, in the attribute of Thought.  And each idea that expresses it in Thought will represent a mode of one particular attribute, rather than of some other.  So that there will be as great a distinction between ideas as between attributes themselves or modes of different attributes:  they will have “no [causal] connection.”  There will thus be an objective distinction between ideas, equivalent to the real formal distinction between attributes, or modes differing in attribute.  Furthermore, this distinction between ideas will itself be objective and formal, insofar as it is brought into relation with the formal being of the ideas themselves.  Thought will thus contain modes which, while belonging to the same attribute, are nevertheless distinguished not modally, but formally or really.”  We can see that the ideas disjoin or divide the connections of the modes. And, this modal division is not merely an objective distinction.  When a mode divides, it changes in nature (i.e., formally and really).  As Deleuze says, (Difference & Repetition 237) “An intensive quantity [a modal essence] may be divided, but not without changing its nature.”  This is the interaction between the two powers.  With the disjunction of the modes that were connected, there is change in the nature—a change in connection. 


The First Two Syntheses of Actualization


With parallelism we must distinguish between the powers and their equality and the attributes and their equality.  Ontological parallelism is the equality of attributes.  Epistemological parallelism is the equality of powers.  I understand the two powers in Spinoza’s ontological and epistemological parallelism to be that upon which Deleuze bases his first two syntheses.  In Difference & Repetition, Deleuze applies these two syntheses to the constitution of time.  The first synthesis is an ontological parallelism.  It is the contractile passive synthesis of habits that we are, drawing difference from repetition.  It is ontological form.  The second synthesis is an epistemological parallelism.  It is the passive synthesis of the Idea in Memory.  Therefore, this is not a synthesis of successive instants on a homogeneous line of time.  It is the heterogeneity of parallel syntheses or powers. 


Also, in Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari describe the syntheses.  The first connective synthesis is the production and interruption of flows.  Connection, as we have seen, is the first ontological synthesis of Spinoza’s parallelism.  (EiP109) “…the modes of different attributes have not only the same order and the same connection, but the same being; they are the same things…”  The second disjunctive synthesis as described in Anti-Oedipus is the distributive viewpoint.  It is the individuating disjunction of the modes that were connected in the first synthesis.  The modifications of the first synthesis are disjoined by the ideas of the second synthesis.  Isn’t this Spinoza’s epistemological parallelism?  Given a mode in some attribute, there is an idea in the attribute of Thought corresponding to it.  One and the same individual is expressed by a given mode (in whatever attribute) and its corresponding idea (in the attribute of Thought).   Ideas of the second synthesis disjoin corresponding modes in different attributes, because each of these modes is represented by an idea in the attribute of Thought.


Therefore, I believe that this description of the first two syntheses (in Anti-Oedipus) can be understood by way of Deleuze and Guattari’s Spinozism.  The first connective synthesis is ontological parallelism.  This is the pure, formal expression of the attributes in parallel as they produce and interrupt flows.  There is the same order and connection between modes of different attributes, but there is no necessitating causality of the flows between them.  The second synthesis of disjunctive recording can be seen to be Spinoza’s epistemological parallelism.  It is the disjunction of the modifications of Substance that we found in the first synthesis.  But through the conjunction of intensities, disjunction reacts on the connections and reconstitutes them with real difference.  We see that there is no mediation in this process.  Connection is immediately disjunction and conjunction. 


Therefore, I understand Deleuze’s ‘first synthesis’ to be Spinoza’s ontological parallelism.  It qualifies Substance in a multiplicity of ways.  This is the first synthesis of real distinction.  I understand that which Deleuze calls the ‘second synthesis’ to be Spinoza’s epistemological parallelism.  It is the numerical distinction of the individuated modes.  It is the individuation of the modes also affected in a multiplicity of ways.  There are, then, two types of multiplicities.  One is the formal-real distinction of the modifications of Substance.  (However, it should be noted that within a given unity of modification, there is no real distinction.)  The other distributes the numerical-individuating distinction of the modes.  (However, it should be noted that when a mode divides, it changes in nature.  That is, there is real distinction.)  The two parallelisms (ontological and epistemological) are the two syntheses or multiplicities that interpenetrate endlessly in proliferation of sense.  Content is expressed and becomes new content for new expression.    The first two syntheses interact in the process of the actualization of existing modes.


The Third Synthesis of Counter-Actualization


If the two powers in parallel show us the Spinozist basis for Deleuze’s first two syntheses, can we also find in Spinoza the basis for what Deleuze and Guattari, in Anti-Oedipus, call the third conjunctive synthesis of Eternal Return?  Deleuze does tell us that he sees the eternal return in Spinozism.  (D&R304) “All that Spinozism needed to do for the univocal to become an object of pure affirmation was to make substance turn around the modes – in other words, to realize univocity in the form of repetition in the eternal return.” 


According to Deleuze’s Spinozism, we perceive other bodies only as they affect our own.  My subjectivity is only the idea of my own body or mind as perceiving external effects.  However, these effects are never adequate ideas.  The inadequate ideas of these affections involve their own cause, but do not express it.  The ideas I have of these external perceptions are therefore signs of my imagination.  They are not adequate expressions of the power of knowing.  They are inadequate impressions from external objects.  This is Spinoza’s first kind of knowledge.  I take this first kind of knowledge to be a reference to the Representational thinking Spinoza found in Descartes.  However, since these inadequate impressions involve their cause, these affections can help us know what is common to external bodies and our own.  Joyful affections indicate to us a “common notion” which is adequate, because it belongs to the idea of the external body and our own.  We can form an idea of what is common to the affecting body and our own.  This adequate idea is the ‘common notion’ of Spinoza’s second kind of knowledge.  It is a form common to several actualized bodies, or existing modes.  It is found in the actualizations of Univocity. 


Therefore, an adequate idea is a common notion of bodies in the second kind of knowledge.  However, when we reach Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge, (EiP300) “Attributes are still common forms; what has changed is the sense of the word “common.”  Common no longer means more general, that is, applicable to several existing modes….Common means univocal: attributes are univocal, or common to God whose singular essence they constitute, and to the modes whose particular essences they contain….Ideas of the third kind are defined by their singular nature; they represent God’s essence and give us knowledge of particular essences as these are contained in God himself.”  Therefore, the ‘common notions’ of the second kind of knowledge, give us the adequate idea of relations common to several actualized existing modes.  But the ‘common notions’ of the third kind of knowledge are the conjunction of singular, intensive essences.  (See my article ‘Ethics and Common Notions’.)  Isn’t this conjunction of intensive singularities, in Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge, the basis for the third synthesis of eternal return?  Isn’t this the counter-actualization of Univocity? 


I believe we can understand the conjunctive third synthesis through an understanding of Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge where (EiP300) “An attribute is no longer understood merely as a common property of all the existing modes corresponding to it, but as what constitutes the singular essence of divine substance, as what contains all the particular essences of its modes.”  Are these univocal singular essences of the third kind of knowledge the conjunctions of the third synthesis that Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus?  Aren’t intensive conjunctions the third synthesis of eternal return of counter-actualization?  As we reach these conjunctive singular intensities, we enter into new affective becomings.  This third (conjunctive) synthesis (AO87) “…express[es] those nondecomposable distances always enveloped in the intensities that divide into one another while changing their form.”  (AO88) “The conjunctive synthesis can therefore be expressed: “So I am the king!  So the kingdom belongs to me!”  But this me is merely the residual subject that sweeps the circle and concludes a self from its oscillations on the circle.”  This is the third synthesis of consummation of which Deleuze and Guattari say (AO19) “…attraction and repulsion produce intense nervous states that fill up the body without organs to varying degrees—states through which Schreber-the-subject passes, becoming a woman and many other things as well, following an endless circle of eternal return.”  The Eternal Return is intensive conjunction that resonates across all disjunction.




The first synthesis of actualization qualifies substances.  It is the connective synthesis.  Multiplicities of parallel series of really distinct attributes contain any connection of modes without causal relation.  However, since these heterogeneous attributes are the same substance ontologically, modes differing in attribute are the same modification.  The second synthesis of actualization is the individuation of modes.  This is the disjunctive synthesis.  The power of thinking disjoins the intensive connections of the first synthesis to change its nature by resecting the connections.  The third is the conjunctive synthesis of counter-actualization, or eternal return.  Any intensity of the power of thinking and knowing (epistemological parallelism of expression) may be conjoined with any intensity of the power of existing and acting (ontological parallelism of content).  All three syntheses are immediately related in expressive univocity.


Therefore, Deleuze-Spinoza’s parallelism overcomes all dualistic opposition.  Parallelism, both ontological and epistemological, has nothing to do with opposition.  There is no opposition between subjective and objective, theory and practice.  There is no negative oppositional relation at all.  All is affirmation of intensive coupling.  (D&R 222) “Every intensity is E – E’, where E itself refers to an e – e’, and e to e – e’ etc.: each intensity is already a coupling (in which each element of the couple refers in turn to couples of elements of another order), thereby revealing the properly qualitative content of quantity.”  Each intensity is already a coupling.  The coupling of Spinoza’s attributes (extension and thought) and Deleuze’s disparate intensities (content and expression), always form a singular modification of substance with each repetition that changes in nature.  Parallelism is never a relation of opposition.  Every intensive coupling is a singularity.  Each coupling is a folding which makes any opposition between content and expression (or modes of different attributes) indiscernible.  There can be no oppositional relation at this sub-representative level of parallelism.  Whenever we misunderstand intensive coupling to be an inverse relation of constant variability, we confuse it with a scientific function.  Then, according to Deleuze, we confuse the direct relation of intensive coupling (inseparable variation) with a constant relation of variability which characterizes the scientific function.  The scientific function and the philosophical concept are two types of multiplicities that intersect, but they are not of the same type.  The inseparable variation of the concept comes up through the middle to intersect with the scientific function to change its nature with each repetition of difference.  Philosophical multiplicities are disparate intensive constructions of disparate compossible or incompossible series.  Scientific multiplicities are discrete and non-totalizable.  Neither type is generality of the particular (one-many).  Both are singular-universal (one-all).    


Return to Home Page