Repetition as Universality of the Singular

by Beth Metcalf

From page 1 of Difference & Repetition, Deleuze prepares the reader for understanding his ontology of univocal being.  He makes a radical distinction between the repetitions of univocity, on the one hand; and our usual Representational Image of Thought, on the other.  The former is repetition as singular-universal.  The latter is a closed generality of the particular.  “Generality, as generality of the particular, thus stands opposed to repetition as universality of the singular…”  But what is repetition as the universality of the singular?  How do we reach that which opposes the generality of the particular?  The answer to that question is fundamental in reaching an understanding of Deleuze’s concept of univocal being.

Deleuze says (DR 270) that Representation distorts repetition no less than difference.  First, Representational Thought provides no criteria for distinguishing repetition from generality.  It merely repeats its own generality.  Its “repetition” is without any singular difference.  Second, Representation uses the identity of the concept to explain both repetition and difference.  Then, difference is merely a conceptual difference, and “[r]epetition …is represented outside the concept, as though it were a difference without concept, but always with the presupposition of an identical concept”.  There is merely numerical, not real, distinction in space and time.  Third, the negative of opposition and limitation in the concept causes blockages.  An infinite number of things can be comprehended under the generality of the concept.  There can only be resemblances.  Such general difference can never reach singular difference.  Therefore, Deleuze makes the distinction between the repetition of univocity and the generality of Representation.  The singular difference of univocity does not presuppose the identity of the concept.  Repetition of singular difference does not presuppose resemblance or analogy within a general structure.

Deleuze’s difference and repetition reveal two types of multiplicities.  There are sub-representative multiplicities as planes of consistency, and there are multiplicities of actualized uses of reference frames.  On a plane of extensive reference, when a particular element divides, there is no change in its general nature.  There will still be merely the same generality of the particular.  A particular individual will not reach singularity.  On a closed plane of reference, there is only the generality of the particular.  There are no multiplicities.  To reach multiplicities of reference, there needs to be an intersection with another type of multiplicity --- pre-individual sub-representative intensive multiplicities that, with division, must change in nature.  All such intensive forces (in any degree, order, or connection) are the ontological singularity of real distinction.  Singularity changes its nature with each division on this sub-representative plane of intensities.  Then, the intersecting frames of reference may be multiplicities of actualized singular uses of general representation.  However, if the plane of general reference does not intersect with the sub-representative plane --- if the sub-representative plane is left out --- then there is only one closed plane of totalizing-generalizing reference.  Then there is only a Dogmatic Image of Thought whose mere variability is often mistaken for multiplicity.  The generality of the particular is reduced to the Dogmatic Image of Representation if it does not reach intersection with the sub-representative plane of univocality.  Therefore, only when the two planes intersect do they open into two types of multiplicities --- intensive and extensive multiplicities of singular-universal difference.  Then, planes of reference proliferate into discrete multiplicities as they intersect with the continuous multiplicities of planes of consistency.  There is creation of concepts on planes of consistency.  There are actualized uses of extensive reference.  There are uses of generality that extend no further than their singular conditions.  All such uses are singular-universal frames of reference, incommensurable with each other.  There is no totalizing generality of consistency or reference.

Deleuze writes about two types of distribution (DR 36-7).  There is a “type of distribution which implies a dividing up of that which is distributed”.  I take that to be the Dogmatic Image of Representational Thought.  The other type of distribution is “nomadic….without property, enclosure or measure.  Here, there is no longer a division of that which is distributed but rather a division among those who distribute themselves in an open space….”  I take the former type to be generality of the particular.  The latter is universality of the singular --- the One-All of univocal being --- the intersection of two types of multiplicities.  Deleuze writes, “To fill a space, to be distributed within it, is very different from distributing the space.  It is an errant and even ‘delirious’ distribution, in which things are deployed across the entire extensity of a univocal and undistributed Being….”  With univocal being, being is not distributed into a sedentary structure under categories of Representation.

Deleuze tells us (DR 3) that “[e]xperimentation is thus a matter of substituting one order of generality for another: an order of equality for an order of resemblance.  Repetition appears here only in the passage from one order of generality to another …. as if repetition momentarily appeared between or underneath two generalities.”  Therefore, an order of generality is that which, under the same conditions, represents the “being-equal of the phenomena”.  But repetition must not be confused with a mere difference in a degree of generality.  “In its essence, repetition refers to a singular power which differs in kind from generality….”  So, it is important to understand what Deleuze means by ‘being-equal’.  He says (DR 37), “The words ‘everything is equal’ may therefore resound joyfully, on condition that they are said of that which is not equal in this equal, univocal Being: equal being is immediately present in everything, without mediation or intermediary, even though things reside unequally in this equal being.”  All things are in absolute proximity (no matter how distant from the point of view of a prior concept).  All participate equally in being that is ontologically one (not conceptually identical).  There is no sedentary structure of generality.  There is only the ontological being equal of all singularity that is nomadically distributed.  However, it is only the disparate ‘intensity’ of difference (DR222) that may be nomadically distributed because only such disparate difference is singular in all its repetitions.  That is, singular conditions determine each order (or use) of generality.

(DR25) “The interior of repetition is always affected by an order of difference: it is only to the extent that something is linked to a repetition of an order other than its own that the repetition appears external and bare, and the thing itself subject to the categories of generality.  It is the inadequation between difference and repetition which gives rise to the order of generality.”

Therefore, when Deleuze writes about that singular difference which changes in nature with each division, he does not mean division within a structure of genera and species.  That could never reach singular difference.  Deleuze’s singular difference involves two types of multiplicities.  His philosophy shows us multiplicities of intensive inseparable variations of the concept.  These are planes that change in nature as strata are superimposed.  The other type of multiplicities is the independent variables of scientific reference.  The two types of multiplicities intersect, each on its own line.  But if we do not reach the first type of multiplicities, then the other type merely closes into one totalizing generality of reference.  Then there are no multiplicities at all.  If the inseparable variations of the philosophical concept are confused with the variables of the scientific function, then everything is closed into one totalizing generality of reference --- one totalizing Image of Representation --- the Dogmatic Image of Conceptual Identity.  The philosophical concept must escape identity.  It must reach ordinal singularity of intensive folding that changes nature with each fold.  Otherwise the philosophical concept is being confused with the scientific function.

Deleuze writes about philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Spinoza, and others.  However, commentators often will say that Deleuze misreads Hegel --- that Deleuze, in spite of his denial, is really similar to Hegel.  Or, some may say Deleuze is wrong about Spinoza.  Or, some may critique Deleuze according to Kant.  But from the perspective of what plane of consistency can these judgments be made?  In order to criticize or debate with Deleuze in this way it is necessary to ignore Deleuze’s ‘perspectivism’ as planes of multiplicities.  The philosophers Deleuze writes about are not to be taken as causal influences.  Deleuze’s consistency is not just another one of many different unified perspectives of generality.  History is no longer conceived as a totalizing generality of reference.  Deleuze’s history of philosophy is not merely a linear development or chronology of causal continuity.  According to Deleuze, there is no ideal meta-history of universal generality.  Deleuze sees philosophical structure as problematic.  Philosophical perspectives are creation of concepts on singular planes of consistency.  Deleuze’s univocal being is the dispersion of intensive singularities.  There is proliferation of discontinuous multiplicities of historical perspective --- disparate conditions of knowledge --- that create transversals of new continuous variations.  Terms do not maintain a common sense correlated with referents.  In order to read Deleuze, the sense of terms can be deciphered only in their singular occurrence of dispersion.  We can no longer assume that terms are used in one generalized function or totalizing signification.

Some commentators, when trying to understand Deleuze, may read Kant (for example).  Then they do not understand Kant from the perspective of Deleuze’s plane of univocality.  Rather, they interpret Deleuze from the perspective of Kant’s plane.  However, from Kant’s perspective, it may appear that Kant starts from a transcendental whole and Deleuze starts with the concrete parts.  But, according to Deleuze’s ‘perspectivism’, what difference would that make?  For Deleuze it does not matter whether we start from the transcendental or the empirical.  In either case, it is still a Conceptual Image that traces the transcendental from the empirical.  Then there are only general transcendental conditions of possible experience.  The transcendental is merely traced from the supposed prior possibilities of empirical experience.  Then, there can be only one generalizing reference frame.  It is only when we finally reach Deleuze’s plane of consistency that we no longer see many perspectives of one conceptual image of variability.  Deleuze reaches a sub-representational domain of transcendental-empiricism where both the transcendental and the empirical are constituted and actualized together in two intersecting types of disparate multiplicities.  There is no prior Image of a generalized whole with particular concrete parts.  Any collection of intensive singularities may be a new body without organs.  Deleuze’s intersection of two types of interleaved multiplicities reaches singular-universal repetition with real singular difference.

In chapter 6 of Empiricism and Subjectivity, Deleuze writes (regarding critics of Hume’s empiricism) that most criticisms raised against the great philosophers are philosophical objections in name only.  And can’t this also be said about criticisms against Deleuze?  Aren’t Deleuze’s critics (and often his disciples) raising questions that are philosophical in name only?  A good philosophical critique must no longer assume that philosophical problems are inside a prior generalized structure.  Philosophy must not trace the transcendental from the empirical.  Philosophical critique must not assume an already given structure of ‘what things are’ or ‘how things are related’.  Philosophy must put such already given structure in question by reaching ‘intensity’ (i.e., the singular difference of that by which the given is given).  A good critique can only ask whether the question which presents things in a certain light is a good and rigorous question.  Only one kind of criticism is philosophical --- ‘Does the questioning of the philosopher force the nature of things enough?’  Yet, Deleuze is often criticized from the perspective of a totalizing plane that never reaches intensive multiplicities of singular difference.  Such a perspective of generalizing reference is merely repetition that maintains conceptual identity.  It presupposes what things are possible, how things can possibly be related, and how constant relations of variability maintain a prior image of possibility.  But how does that force the nature of things enough?

Of course, Deleuze appears to “misread” Hegel --- or Deleuze appears Hegelian --- if he is read from the perspective of Hegel’s plane!  Hegel never reaches Deleuze’s sub-representative plane of immanence-consistency.  He never reaches two types of singular multiplicities.  Hegel does not reach Deleuze’s plane of univocality.  Deleuze changes the way philosophy is to be done.  Each philosopher lays out a singular plane of consistency --- a new singular creation of concepts that addresses new problems.  But when we use traditional concepts in order to understand Deleuze, we assume a totalizing perspective of identity on a generalized plane of transcendent reference.  We never reach Deleuze’s plane of singular immanence.  And yet many disciples of Deleuze still take some supposed ideal model of Kant or Hegel or whomever, and critique Deleuze from that perspective.  From that perspective they interpret, or even debate with, Deleuze’s text.  However, that only means they have not yet reached Deleuze’s plane of consistency.  According to Deleuze, to debate with a plane of consistency is to confuse philosophy with scientific reference.  Philosophy must reach singular (intensive) multiplicities by which the given (extensive) multiplicities of scientific reference are given (DR 222).  A philosophical plane of consistency may be critiqued only by asking ‘Is it interesting, remarkable, or important?’ and ‘Does it force the nature of things enough?’

Commentators, even as they discuss Deleuze’s ‘difference’, still unwittingly leave out his singular difference.  They inadvertently presuppose the generality of the particular.  They still presume a structure that must be maintained in the identity of its conceptual generality.  However, according to Deleuze, philosophy is no longer to be understood as one totalizing reference frame that unifies variable perspectives into a generalized image.  Deleuze breaks with common sense and good sense.  He tells us that repetition must not return to any original idealized model.  Deleuze’s repetition of Kant or Hegel or whomever is to be understood as showing how that philosopher appears from the perspective of Deleuze’s plane of consistency.  Deleuze’s perspectivism is multiplicities of singular planes of consistency.  All are real difference, ontologically one --- not conceptually one.  The immanence of disparate singular-intensive multiplicities may be actualized in disparate singular-extensive multiplicities of diversity.  Each plane is itself a singular-universal perspective.  Philosophy must reach two types of multiplicities.  Otherwise, philosophy becomes merely a supposed plane of transcendence --- many perspectives totalized into one conceptual Image of identity.

Therefore, it is my contention that we must read only Deleuze when it is Deleuze we are trying to understand, because only Deleuze lays out his own singular plane of consistency.  If we want to understand Deleuze we would not read Deleuze according to a prior understanding of Kant, for example.  We would read Deleuze’s Kant in order to understand how Kant appears from the perspective of Deleuze’s plane of consistency.  Deleuze’s repetition with real difference is the superimposition of intensive strata that change nature with each repetition (division or augmentation).  Each such repetition introduces real difference as it intersects with, and changes, its extensive reference frame.  These intensive and extensive multiplicities intersect.  Therefore, if these are to be repetitions with real intensive difference, what must they not be?  According to Deleuze (Difference & Repetition 126-8) they must not be copies resembling a supposed ideal model of Kant or Hegel or whomever.  If we are to reach Deleuze’s simulacra on his plane of univocal being, we must stop treating repetition as if it were consistent with some totalizing frame of reference whose “difference” maintains identity of an original conceptual image of variability.  We must find coherence in Deleuze’s text --- without importing concepts he does not have --- and without neglecting concepts he does have.  That is, we must not read Kant or Hegel or whomever in order to understand Deleuze.  We must read Deleuze’s repetition of that philosopher if we want to see how his concept of univocal being changes the nature of how that philosopher appears.  Deleuze’s repetition always involves real difference that does not maintain identity of an ideal model.  It does not return to an origin.  It is important to reach Deleuze’s plane of consistency as he lays it out in his text --- if it is Deleuze we are trying to understand.

According to Deleuze, transcendental conditions must no longer entail the assumption of a common historical origin.  Conditions change in the course of history.  There is no maintenance of homogeneous conditions of determinate causes.  So, it can no longer be assumed that we can read philosophers of the past under unifying transcendental conditions of possibility.  There is no totalizing perspective from which historical events can be read.  There is no determinate origin to which ‘events’ are causally related.  Events are immediate singularities not mediated by any general structure.  Events are repetition with real heterogeneous singularity.  They are not inside an already given form of generality.  Singular events change the nature of their own conditions of possibility.  Events change the nature of a structure as they are repeated with singular difference.  They do not maintain a structure of variable generality.  Events may be said as same, but they are not the same.  Events are repetitions with real difference of changing historical conditions.  Deleuze’s ‘transcendental-empiricism’ (like Foucault’s ‘historical a priori’) sees the creation of new forms throughout history.  Deleuze’s time of Aion is the empty form of the determinable.  His ‘perspectivism’ creates historical conditions for new possibilities of perception and understanding.  It prevents any general, universal, or totalizing knowledge.  It never maintains variable relations of conceptual identity.  Discontinuous dispersions of flows never maintain the same objects, subjective positions, conceptual forms, or practical function.  Concrete modes of perspective are singular-universal.  They have nothing to do with a process of generality of the particular that goes from one actual term to another.  Rather, the process of multiplicities goes from virtual singularity to actualized singular-universal.  This has nothing to do with a homogeneous historicism that maintains constant relations of variability or generality of function.

Of course, there is not one way to read Deleuze.  We read Deleuze with repetitions of real difference if we are to follow Deleuze’s way forward.  But how can we do that if we do not first understanding what Deleuze means by ‘real singular difference’?  Without Deleuze’s new univocal sense of repetition (i.e. repetition that says all singularity as ontologically one universality of being), there can be only a return to the generalizing structure of traditional thought.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with reading Kant or Hegel.  But why should we read philosophers of the past in order to understand Deleuze?  We must first try to understand how Deleuze lays out his own plane of consistency.  But in doing this we can’t just ignore those concepts that don’t fit our prior notions of what makes consistency possible.  We must reach a sub-representative source of new possibilities that may seem inconsistent or impossible from a prior perspective of traditional thought.