Foucault’s ‘Theatrum Philosophicum’

by Beth Metcalf

I want to review Michel Foucault’s essay ‘Theatrum Philosophicum’ (1) which is itself a review of two books by Deleuze, Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense.  Foucault calls these (Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology 343) “books of exceptional merit and importance”.  Foucault, a philosopher of history, shares with Deleuze what I see as a common degree of intensity that radically changes the nature of both the study of philosophy and the study of history.  Deleuze and Foucault change the nature of the study into new practices or uses.  Therefore, Foucault has a rare insight into the writings of Deleuze.  He sees Deleuze’s thought as a transformation of philosophy into a theater of signals that intervene as sense in the mimed “usages of representation” (2).  This new philosophy of usages of representation has nothing to do with the old philosophy of Representation-Analogy (3). 

Foucault begins his reading of Deleuze by saying that there is no heart or center or circle of return in this new vision of philosophical thought.  There is only a problem.  There is only decentering through the nomadic distribution of remarkable points.  This means that there are no longer essential points of a prior formed substance.  Rather, substance turns around modal “uses” that decenter.  Now, all return is a decentering on a straight “labyrinthine line” of excess and deficiency.

With this new philosophy of mimed uses, Deleuze overturns Platonism.  But haven’t all philosophies (even Plato’s) tried to overturn Platonism?  Foucault asks if this means that all philosophies are a species of the genus ‘anti-Platonic’.  Aren’t all philosophies grouped around this anti-Platonic center?  But Foucault notices that this is what makes Deleuze’s anti-Platonism different.  Deleuze shows us that the traditional ways of reversing Platonism are useless.  Traditional philosophy, by merely opposing Platonic essence, could not escape the essence/appearance opposition.  A reversal of Platonism can’t be defined in opposition to its substantial center.  Rather, ‘anti-Platonic’ must be an element that functions in the Platonic series as a differential, absent in the content of Platonism but present in its expression.  It must be defined as a phantasm – by the surface effect of absence and excess when distributed into two heterogeneous series.  So Plato cannot be reversed in the manner that the old philosophies tried to do.  The reversal cannot be a separation into genus and species.  Rather, Deleuze shows us that the reversal must be a selective division. The true or false appearances have nothing to do with the authentic claimant of singularity.  Only by reaching this singular difference can the Platonism of essence/appearance opposition be reversed.  Deleuze’s anti-Platonism is a “delicate sorting” that reaches singularity.  This has nothing to do with “rights of appearances” or “rights of simulacra” that would resemble essential forms.  The incorporeal ‘event’ breaks with essential centering and cyclic return.  It breaks with all traditional ways of trying to overturn Plato.

Therefore, Deleuze’s reverse side of Platonism is not anti-Platonism.  It is a new interpretation of Stoicism.  The pure event must have a metaphysical basis.  But this must not be a substantial metaphysics that assumes an opposition of essence/accident in a network of causes and effects.  The ‘event’ is an effect of the intermingling of incorporeal bodies.  Incorporeal bodies create events as surface effects without being causes.  They are quasi-causes of incorporeal metaphysics.  Events, therefore, cannot be determined by a logic of propositions or reference.  Events have nothing to do with a logic of facts or states of things that could be judged as true or false.  The pure event has a new logic of sub-representative sense --- a metaphysics of incorporeal quasi-causes of new disparate uses of representation.

Deleuze’s phantasms and simulacra are incorporeal.  They cannot be contained in stable figures.  Phantasms cut, break, and multiply surfaces of bodies.  Phantasms are not imaginary organisms.  They (AME 347) “topologize” material into incorporeal bodies without organs.  They are neither true nor false.  They are neither being nor nonbeing.  They are “extra-being”.  Phantasms are not resemblances of perception.  Rather, phantasms are the impenetrable, incorporeal surfaces of bodies.  This means that ‘metaphysics’ takes on a new sense.  It is now the discourse of incorporeal things.  Deleuze’s ‘metaphysics’ liberates ‘simulacra’.  Simulacra repeat without resemblance. There is only the play of the perverse.  Deleuze’s metaphysics sees the phantasm and the simulacra as a play of surfaces without the relation of model and copy.   

So, according to Foucault (AME 349-50), instead of a logic of meaning in relation to propositional reference; Deleuze envisions a new logic of sense that inter-relates four terms.  We have that which designates things by blind gestures or signals.  We have the derivation of that which expresses a collective enunciation of opinion or belief about new uses of things.  We have that which signifies the verb “to be” and affirms an attributive link between things.  And finally, we have intangible meaning that articulates a frontier between (on the one hand) incorporeal things and (on the other hand) the incorporeal proposition as infinitive verb.  I take this final meaning-event to be what Deleuze calls ‘sense’ that inheres in the signifying affirmation of the proposition and is attributed to designated things.  The infinitive verb “to die” is an incorporeal effect of a proposition.  It is a meaning and an event.  Aeon is a nomadic distribution.  An aleatory point without thickness is displaced over the surface.  It articulates a frontier between words and things.  Meaning is not a concept the subject has of an object.  It is the frontier without substantial thickness between words and things.  Intangible meaning-event is what is said of a thing.  It is not the attribute of a proposition.  Being is extra-propositional.  Meaning happens, not as a variable process or an essential state, but as the event --- the speed of what already happened and the slowness of the not yet happened.  Meaning-event is the singularity of being-saying repeated with real singular difference each time.

With the incorporeal metaphysics of the event, two series can be made to resonate.  There is a neutral aleatory point that roams over the surface of two series.  The incorporeal event and the intangible phantasm are brought into resonance.  The phantasm is repetition of pure difference.  The phantasm is excessive in the series of the singularity of the event, while the event is lacking in the series of the phantasm.  This aleatory point roams over the surface of the two series in inclusive affirmation of all disjunctions.  It is repetition of real difference outside any form that would copy an original model through resemblance. 

Meaning-event (or that which Deleuze calls ‘sense’) is not the attribute of a proposition.  The verb is either the present tense of the event, or it is the infinitive of meaning by the circulation of a neutral element.  Foucault says (AME 350), “The grammar of the meaning-event revolves around two asymmetrical and hobbling poles: the infinitive mode and the present tense”.  The meaning-event then is displacement of the present singular event and the repetition of the real distinction of the infinitive.  “To die” is Aeon that divides the smallest time that can be thought.  And dying is eternally repeated as a singular displaced present and the plenitude of really distinct forms --- (AME 350) “…the (multiple) eternity of the (displaced) present”.  In other words, it is real distinction always ontological singularity.  An incorporeal event is on the surface of words and things.  It is the infinitive verb as present without thickness.  It is the saying of all real distinction in one sense.  The saying of the whole of being (ontological singularity) is real difference and repetition.

Foucault lists three attempts in the recent past to conceptualize the event.  First, neopositivism takes the event to be a state of things inside the density of bodies.  It reduces surfaces to depth.  The event is merely the attribute of a proposition.  Second, phenomenology sees the event as a process of meaning.  The event still has only possible form as either a logic of signification or a metaphysics of consciousness.  Third, there is a philosophy of history and its cyclical time at the level of cause and effect thought through conceptual identity.  All three never reach the event.  They never reach the metaphysics of the event as incorporeal surface.

Philosophy traditionally tried to determine the event as measured by a prior concept of knowledge.  And it presented itself as critique.  But Deleuze’s ontology sees the event as the repetition of difference as singular universal.  Foucault says (AME 353), “If the role of thought is to produce the phantasm theatrically and to repeat the universal event in its extreme point of singularity, then what is thought itself if not the event that befalls the phantasm and the phantasmatic repetition of the absent event?.....Thought has to think through what forms it, and is formed out of what it thinks through.  The critique-knowledge duality is perfectly useless: thought says what it is.”  And (AME 346), “It is useless, in any case, to seek a more substantial truth behind the phantasm….it is also useless to contain it within stable figures….Phantasms must be allowed to function at the limit of bodies, against bodies….”  And if seeking a truth of substantial bodies is useless, then what is useful?

The useful must not be confused with a relation between subject and object.  That is, the event is not meaning around a subject.  Nor is the object a form of resemblance affirmed by a subject.  Aeon is a straight line as a fissure between a dissolved self and fragmented series of intensive remarkable points that allows no unity of subject and object to subsist.  There are only the events of thought as incorporeality --- the problematic multiplicities --- thought as mime in repetition of difference --- without copy of a model.

‘Difference’ has traditionally been a relation from or within something, as species within a genus.  Yet beyond the species there are swarms of singular individual differences outside the generality of the concept.  Foucault asks, (AME 356) “What is this boundless diversity which eludes specification and remains outside the concept, if not the resurgence of repetition?”  But how do we reach that singular individuation?  Certainly not by a subjectivation to common sense between the universal generality of an object and the good will of the subject.  Deleuze’s thought is freed from common sense to make “malign use” in the free reign of ill will.  What if ‘difference’ escapes that relationship within and between genus and species?  What if a differential difference escapes the generality of the particular to reach the universality of the singular?  Then ‘difference’ would be a pure event.  And repetition would no longer repeat the identity of a concept.  Difference and repetition would reach that which, in dividing, changes its nature.  Thought, then (AME 356) “produces a meaning-event by repeating a phantasm”. 

Representation-Analogy could only equalize and hierarchize quantities in a table of classification.  On the horizontal axis, the smallest unit of quantity intersects the smallest variable of quality.  Repetition within the identity of the concept merely repeats identity and organizes similarities. Good sense recognizes this repetition of difference inside the identical concept.  In the classical table of Representation, there is a merely negative basis of “difference”.   It is based only on a negative test of recognition.  A Representational classification has only negative oppositional relations.  Its “difference” can only divide ‘same’ into contradiction.  It can only limit identity through non-being.  It can only change through a constant variability of opposing predicates.  Representational difference is mediated by a prior concept.  Its repetition is merely a (AME 358) “stuttering of the negative”.

Nor does Hegel’s dialectics liberate difference.  Its contradictions salvage identity.  A real liberation of difference requires thought to escape contradiction and negation.  We require a difference that reaches affirmation of all divergence --- the inclusion of all disjunctions.  We require the intensive disparate multiplicities that no longer confine thought to the maintenance of the same.

How do we reach that which perverts good sense?  How do we escape the table of similarities and resemblances?  We must reach a new vertical dimension that is not ordered in the table of Representation.  Deleuze’s ‘intensity’ reaches a new domain of pure disparate difference of the singular.  Now this intensive (AME 357) “difference displaces and repeats itself, contracts and expands; a singular point that constricts and slackens the indefinite repetitions in an acute event.  One must give rise to thought as intensive irregularity.  Dissolution of the Me.”

So, how do we reach thought that frees difference from negation?  Thought must accept divergence and affirmation of disjunctions.  Thought must reach a nomadic distribution of multiplicities that are not mediated by a prior concept.  Thought must reach the ‘Idea’ that is not eternal essence, but exists only in the form of a problem.  The answer to a question is not an Ideal solution.  The problem has resolution only in displacement of the question.  The sub-representative problematic idea is a dispersed multiplicity.  Its solution is not a Cartesian clear-distinct Idea.  The problematic idea is an incorporeal-intangible intersection of phantasm and event – the obscure-distinct.  This is not Hegel’s negative of contradiction of being and non-being.  It is extra-being.  (AME 359) “We must think problematically rather than question and answer dialectically”.

Another condition for reaching Deleuze’s difference and repetition is to liberate difference by reaching non-categorical difference.  Through a sedentary distribution, the categories maintain identity of the concept.  However, Deleuze imagines a new ontology of univocal being where difference is expressed as same.  Only difference is repeated, but it is said as same.  Differences do not revolve around a center.  Difference is no longer mediated by conceptual identity.  Only difference returns.  Difference returns expressed as same, but it is not the same.  Being is not distributed into genus and species or partitioned by categories.  The real is no longer constrained by a concept of what is possible.  Being, without opposition of the necessary and the contingent, is a pure event expressed by the intangible verb.  It is always expressed in one sense of the whole of being, ontologically one.  In the same way, the (AME 360) “phantasmic castration” of real distinction --- the already happened and is yet to happen --- is also said in the same sense, ontologically singular.

But there is also a (AME 361) “use of categories” within this new ontology.  Univocal being creates a space for new “uses” of truth and falsity.  When we are chained to Representational thought, we have either a negative determination through categories that reject stupidity; or we may have acategorical thought of a “black stupidity”.  Therefore, we court danger of falling into “black stupidity” --- “black nothingness” --- when we try to get rid of categories.  How can we avoid the danger of falling into one side or the other of this alternative? (4)  Foucault reads Deleuze to say that we can immerse ourselves in this acategorical (AME 361) “black stupidity”, to confront it and distinguish oneself from it, to be fascinated by it, to mime its action.  The philosopher must become sufficiently ill willed and ill humored to approach stupidity of the acategorical, to mime it, and to await the (AME 363) “shock of difference.  Once paradoxes have upset the table of Representation, catatonia operates within the theater of thought.”  New ground arises that no longer absorbs differences into a black stupidity or a black nothingness, but makes them rise in new uses of representation.  As Foucault reads Deleuze, thought has two horns.  Ill will baffles the categories.  Ill humor immerses in stupidity without categorical difference.  Ill will and ill humor await the theater of (364) “perverse practices” or perverse “uses”.  There is a “kaleidoscope” of fragile uses of dice throws.  Then chance, theater, and perversion resonate and make it possible to think radically new “usages of representation” (2). 

Univocal being frees difference from the order of the same in which there are only oppositional relations of conceptual elements.  Univocal being is expressed as same because its intensive forces are no longer categorical differences.  Being is said of difference.  Only difference returns.  Becoming no longer maintains identity or unity, nor is there a consciousness that recognizes it.  There is no cyclic return of events around a center.  Now, Chronos is a lawless becoming of new “uses” because it is intersected by the straight line of Aeon that nomadically distributes the ontologically singular present as a real distinction of always already happened and the not yet happened.  There is no longer the succession of present instants of causal chronological thought that unifies past-present-future.  Now, it is time that repeats itself.  Present recurs as singular and really distinct difference.  Ontological becoming is recurrence of difference.  It is no longer a universal becoming of the same identical concept.  All chance is affirmed in ontologically one throw where both dice and the rules change in nature.  Being is not unified.  Univocal being says all difference as same.  Philosophy is theater of mime where (AME 367) “blind gestures signal to each other”.

Therefore, it seems to me that Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, Twentieth Series and Twenty-first Series, are especially important in Foucault’s reading of Deleuze.  Deleuze contrasts his own interpretation of Stoicism with the usual divinatory interpretation.  That divinatory interpretation goes from cosmic present to not yet actualized event, linking the event to corporeal causes and their physical unity.  That interpretation is still Representational.  But Deleuze says that Stoic ethics couldn’t be satisfied with this physical method of divination.  It had to go toward a pole of logic --- a logic of sense.  In contrast to the divinatory interpretation of Stoicism that gathers all physical causes in depth and unites them in a cosmic present of the event; the logic of sense wills any event without interpretation in the smallest possible present.  This goes from pure event to smallest present actualization --- a new “use of representation” with each repetition of difference.  Events are incorporeal effects that differ in nature from corporeal causes.  Incorporeal effects are governed only by their relation to incorporeal quasi-causes.  Incorporeal effects have no relation to a Representational interpretation of corporeal causality.

So, with the logic of sense, “usage of representation” is not the usual tradition of Representation (3).  Rational Representation is still the concept of corporeal causality derived from sensible perceptions.  Deleuze notes that sensible Representations are denotations and rational Representations are significations.  But only incorporeal events express ‘sense’.  Therefore, there is a real difference in nature between incorporeal expression and rational Representation.  Incorporeal sense/event is irreducible to denotation and signification.  It has a neutrality and a pre-individual singularity.  Sub-representative sense is not an object of Representation.  But it does intervene in “uses of representation” and (LOS 145) “confers a very special value of the relation that it maintains with its object.”  Without this intervention of sense, Representation has an extrinsic relation of resemblance.  Representation-Analogy leaves out the “internal character” which envelops an expression.  But Deleuze’s Stoic “use of representation” encompasses an expression it does not Represent.  (LOS 146) “There is thus a “use” of representation, without which representation would be lifeless and senseless.” This “use” is not a function of Representation in relation to the Represented.  It is not Representation through a form of possibility.

Deleuze says (LOS 146) “….the functional is transcended in the direction of a topology, and use is in the relation between representation and something extra-representative, a nonrepresented and merely expressed entity.  Representation envelops the event in another nature, it envelops it at is border, it stretches until this point, and it brings about this lining or hem.  This is the operation which defines living usage, to the extent that representation, when it does not reach this point, remains only a dead letter confronting that which it represents, and stupid in its representiveness.”

The Stoic sage-actor-mime identifies with the quasi-cause, traversing the surface as the aleatory point traces a line on the surface.  The actor awaits the event in its eternal truth apart from its actualization in space-time.  The present event is “eternally yet to come” and “already passed”.  The actor wills the embodiment and the actualization of this pure incorporeal event.  The actor-mime acts through a cosmic mixture and a present without thickness that produces the incorporeal effect.  This is not a present that gathers past and future into itself.  Rather, the actor occupies the instant to bring into correspondence the minimum time that can be thought with the maximum time over the line of Aion.  This is to limit actualization of the event in a present without mixture to express any ramification of divergent disjunction in unlimited past and future.

Deleuze says (LoS 147), “To bring about the correspondence of the minimum time which can occur in the instant with the maximum time which can be thought in accordance with the Aion.  To limit the actualization of the event in a present without mixture, to make the instant all the more intense, taut, and instantaneous since it expresses an unlimited future and an unlimited past.  This is the use of representation: the mime, and no longer the fortune-teller.  One stops going from the greatest present toward a future and past which are said only of a smaller present; on the contrary, one goes from the future and past as unlimited, all the way to the smallest present of a pure instant which is endlessly subdivided.”

“Use of representation” is the actor as mime rather than fortune teller of divination.  This “use” has nothing to do with Representational pragmatism.  It is not a molar functionalism.  These “uses” function no longer in an opposition of true/false or essence/appearance.  Rather they are the production of a problem.  They actualize an intensive, heterogeneous disjunction between content of the phantasm and expression as event.  From unlimited future and past to a smallest present endlessly subdivided, the sage is the mime --- the actor --- that wills the event as wound inside that which occurs.  The actor wills the double structure of the event --- in its repetition and its difference --- in its actualization and its counter-actualization.

(1) Foucault’s essay ‘Theatrum Philosophicum’ is published in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, a collection of Foucault’s essays and interviews, edited by James D. Faubion and Paul Rabinow, pages 343-368.

(2) See Deleuze’s Logic of Sense Twentieth Series discusses “uses of representation” of the mime and its difference from Representational divinatory interpretations of Stoicism.

(3) I make a distinction between Representational thought which is opposed to univocity, and the “uses of representation” that are actualizations of univocity.  I indicate this distinction by using the upper-case ‘R’ for the Representation of the dogmatic image of thought opposed to univocity.  I use the lower-case ‘r’ for the “uses of representation.

(4) Deleuze’s univocity rejects this alternative (see my article ‘Deleuze Versus Hegel’).

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