Manuel DeLanda’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy

by Beth Metcalf

In Manuel DeLanda’s Introduction to Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (2013 edition), he states his intention to focus on Deleuze’s ontology.  DeLanda sees Deleuze’s world as the set of entities that actually exist.  He classifies the history of philosophy in roughly three groups (xii):  1) Reality is not independent of the mind that perceives it.  2) Objects of everyday experience are independent of the mind although theoretical entities are not necessarily autonomous.  3) There is a fully mind-independent reality.  This mind-independent “realist ontology” is that which DeLanda sees as Deleuze’s world. 

DeLanda says (xiii), “Deleuze is not a realist about essences….something else is needed to explain what gives objects their identity and what preserves this identity through time…this something else is dynamical processes.”  Therefore, DeLanda sees a dynamic process that maintains the identity of objects through time.  However, isn’t the identity of objects that which Deleuze calls common sense?  And, isn’t that which preserves this identity through time what Deleuze calls good sense?  Isn’t that dynamic process DeLanda attributes to Deleuze exactly the common sense and good sense that Deleuze rejects?  (Difference & Repetition 226) Common sense is the subjective unity and the objective identity of the faculties.  But this static common sense needs a dynamic of good sense to maintain the identity of the object and the unity of the subject through time.  Good sense is the dynamic element that cancels difference in the object so that it is equalized through time in the “good” direction from past to future as Self is unified.  Of course, DeLanda would claim (naively) that what he sees as Deleuze’s “mind-independent realism” has nothing to do with subjective faculties.  And he thinks that this “dynamic process” is enough to escape essentialism.  DeLanda believes that what he sees as Deleuze’s realist ontology is enough to defend against the charge of na´ve realism.  However, I think he needs to bear some burden of explanation.  How can he know mind-independent objects apart from his subjective faculties?  How can he know objective properties apart from the categories of possible experience --- and apart from his subjectively hinged faculties?  And, where does he find such objectivist realism in Deleuze’s text?    

Na´ve realism is the common sense view that our direct perception gives awareness of the external world as it is objectively apart from our subjective perception.  But Deleuze shows us that the common sense and good sense structure of representation-analogy is that na´ve view.  I see no difference between na´ve realism and that which DeLanda projects into his reading of Deleuze.  Can what DeLanda calls Deleuze’s “realism” really be a dynamic process of mind-independence?  Does Deleuze’s ontology really claim to be such an oppositional dichotomy between mind-independent reality and mind-dependent ideas? 

DeLanda still has not escaped the structure of Representation-Analogy with its distributive common sense and hierarchical good sense.  He does not escape analogy which essentially relates being and actual objects.  The generality of analogous structure cannot say what constitutes the singularity of the individual.  (DR 38) “….analogy falls into an unresolvable difficulty: it must essentially relate being to particular existents, but at that same time it cannot say what constitutes their individuality.  For it retains in the particular only that which conforms to the general (matter and form), and seeks the principle of individuation in this or that element of the fully constituted individuals….”  This means that we may divide individuals into smaller and smaller scales of granularity but, with that division, there will be no change in nature.  We will never reach the singularity that escapes the generality of the particular formed matter.  We may rearrange the constant relation of the form-matter variability, but we will still not change the generality of the essential structure of analogy.

DeLanda’s “dynamic process” is merely “difference” that maintains the principle of identity.  It merely maintains a constant relation of form-matter variability.  It excludes all but objects and their parts in conceptual relations of prior possibility.  It includes only what must be in order to maintain the conceptual identity of a prior mind-dependent image of possibility.  It never reaches real intensive difference that escapes the maintenance of identity.  A prior conceptual Image of Thought merely maintains the principle of identical essence no matter how infinitely variable and dynamic its process from one actual term to another may appear.  Its “virtual” will be merely conceptual possibility.  But isn’t that Image of conceptual possibility just what Deleuze’s ontology of univocal being allows philosophy to overcome?  Deleuze tells us (DR 35) “There has only ever been one ontological proposition: Being is univocal.”  If we do not reach that univocal being, we will not escape representation-analogy that merely maintains the essential (common sense/good sense) structure of identity.  DeLanda leaves out Deleuze’s univocal being and therefore cannot escape the equalizing dynamic process of already formed matter in its constant relation of variability that maintains the essential identity of objects and their subjective unity through time.

DeLanda’s whole dynamic process is restricted to the scientific plane of reference.  It leaves out Deleuze’s sub-representative plane of univocality.  It never reaches real intensive difference that escapes any process that maintains identity.  DeLanda confuses philosophy with science.  He confuses the intensive concept with scientific functions of extensive reference.  He can’t escape the charge of na´ve realism since he still claims (20-1) that Deleuze’s project has a “speculative dimension”--- a speculation he says is guided by an avoidance of essentialism.  But how does a “dynamic process” that maintains identity avoid essentialism?  It is a process that merely maintains an essential conceptual Image of identity.  There can be no real change in essence.  Deleuze’s poststructuralism is a postmodernism in the sense that it brings to light what had always been naively omitted by traditional philosophy.  Essentialism is left intact if we still naively use a process which maintains a principle of conceptual identity.  If we do not reach univocal being, we are condemned to repeat the Dogmatic Representational Image of Thought.    

DeLanda says (xiii) that his reconstructed Deleuzean ontology breaks with na´ve realism.  There are, he claims, numerically distinct actual entities that populate reality.  He sees a realism of numerically distinct objects.  But for Deleuze-Spinoza’s univocity, the real cannot be a numerical distinction of objects --- (Expressionism in Philosophy 34) real distinction is never numerical, and numerical distinction is never real.  DeLanda naively supposes that numerically distinct entities are produced without any transcendent conceptual image of mind-dependence.  That is, he claims his “realism” to be independent of any conceptual image.  However, he imagines or conceives an identical structure of reality that he takes to be the numerical distinction of objects, parts of objects, and their variable possible relations.  He maintains a conceptual Image of Representational Thought and its transcendent ground of what is possible. 

In the 2013 edition, DeLanda includes a ‘Preface: Ten Years After’ in which he writes about a “trend toward a renewal of realism”.  A new “speculative turn” of philosophical work, according to Delenda, distinguishes a mind-independent reality from the na´ve everyday perceptions of common sense.  Something must be spectulatively added to the ‘given’ properties that define an object’s identity, tendencies, and capacities.  But he never tells us how these “properties” of the given avoid being determined by categories of possible experience (as Deleuze’s ontology requires).  How are the tendencies and capacities of speculative realism anything other than a “virtual” which succumbs to the danger of which Deleuze warns (DR 211) of being confused with the conceptually possible?  How can the conceptually possible be both mind-independent realism and speculative at the same time?  Insofar as it is speculative, it is not mind-independent realism; and insofar as it is realism, it must be na´ve about its mind-dependent speculations.  In other words, Deleuze’s ontology shows us that ‘realism’ in any speculative sense must always be na´ve essentialism.  It relies on a structure of common sense and good sense and depends on experience that resembles a prior image of conceptual identity.  It only naively appears to escape mind-dependent subjectivity.  It still requires a structure of opposition and limitation.  Its “difference” is merely conceptual emergence from one actual term to another actual term.  Its so-called “virtual” is merely conceptually possible. Its essences are treated as substantial rather than modal. The actual is confused with the real. Insofar as it reaches any “dynamic” process it is merely the infinitely variable constant relation that maintains the principle of conceptual identity.  It puts the whole process on the scientific plane of functions of extensive reference, leaving out the philosophical sub-representative plane of consistency with its intensive concepts.  Whenever there is said to be the “objective” external world, Deleuze shows us that we are speaking naively.  Speculative realism does not answer the problems postmodernism attempts to address. It does not answer the problem of how to overcome negative oppositions. We must reach Deleuze’s ontology of univocal being in order to overcome the oppositional split between subject/object, idealism/realism, mind-dependent/mind-independent.

DeLanda writes (51), “[W]hile an ontology based on relations between general types and particular instances is hierarchical, each level representing a different ontological category (organism, species, genera), an approach in terms of interacting parts and emergent wholes leads to a flat ontology, one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status.”  I assume that DeLanda’s “flat ontology” is his attempt to reach Deleuze’s univocal being and its immediate relations.  But Deleuze tells us (DR 38) this cannot be done at the level of the fully constituted individual.  “We must show not only how individuating difference differs in kind from specific difference, but primarily and above all how individuation properly precedes matter and form, species and parts, and every other element of the constituted individual.”  That is, we must reach a sub-representative field of individuation underneath matters and forms.  Only the pre-individual forces of disparate intensity can relate with immediacy, because only those forces are not already formed matter.  So, DeLanda thinks that his "flat ontology" reaches the singular individual with merely differences of spatio-temporal scale.  And, he thinks that this flat ontology reaches relations of immediacy because he thinks that these relations of fully constituted individuals have no difference in ontological status.  However, because DeLanda never reaches pre-individual forces of intensive singularity, he has only numerical distinction of already formed substances.  In other words, without reaching sub-representative forces of univocal being, he cannot escape the conceptual identity of Representation-Analogy.  

DeLanda sees (147) “a flat ontology of individuals” without reified totalities like society or culture in general.  But without Deleuze’s concept of univocity, DeLanda can only see emergent scales of parts (the many) to whole (the one) which does not escape generality.  A particular individual can only be subsumed under the generality of its species.  That is, a particular individual is never a singularity.  The singular must reach pre-individual disparate degrees of intensity that may be actualized, each time, as singular-universal incommensurable with any other.  With Deleuze’s univocal being, disparate intensive singularities may be actualized, each time, as a new individual-collective.  Therefore, the sub-representative process of univocity does not maintain identity of a generalizing or universalizing structure.  The ‘virtual’ is not a transcendental structure maintaining an essential identity of what is thought to be possible.  Rather, there are modal uses of incommensurable difference.  

DeLanda knows that singularity must not presuppose individuation (73-4).  He knows that singularity must be pre-individual.  However, DeLanda’s “singularity” is still at the level of the numerically distinct actual individual, because he never reaches the pre-individual singularity of intensive univocality.  Whenever Deleuze’s notion of univocal being is left out, we cannot reach pre-individual singularity of Deleuze’s intensity.  DeLanda says, “As Deleuze puts it, virtual relations must involve a purely reciprocal determination between their elements, a reciprocal synthesis between pure changes or differences which should not presuppose any prior individuation.”  But the relation of reciprocal determination of which Deleuze speaks is not to be found on the plane of scientific reference (where DeLanda looks for it).  On that plane there could only be relations between form and already formed substances without any real distinction (A Thousand Plateaus 44).  Rather, we must reach heterogeneous parallelism on the plane of real distinction between content and expression where external relations of terms do not pre-exist the double articulation of reciprocal determination. 

DeLanda quotes a textbook definition of the distinction between intensive and extensive thermodynamic properties (62-3), “Thermodynamic properties can be divided into two general classes, namely intensive and extensive properties.  If a quantity of matter in a given state is divided into two equal parts, each part will have the same value of intensive properties as the original, and half the value of the extensive properties.  Pressure, temperature, and density are examples of intensive properties.  Mass and total volume are example of extensive properties. Van Wylen, Thermodynamics, p.16.”  But since DeLanda is confined to the plane of scientific reference, he doesn’t seem to notice that this definition has nothing to do with Deleuze’s philosophical sense of ‘intensity’.  Since Deleuze’s ‘intensity’ is pre-individual singularity, it is on the philosophical plane of consistency.  It must not be confused with the individual object on the scientific plane of reference where intensity is developed in extensity and covered by quality (DR 223).  When a quantity of matter in a given state is divided, according to the scientific sense of the definition above, there is no change in nature. In dividing, as the scientific definition says, it maintains the same value. Therefore, this should tell DeLanda that he has not reached Deleuze’s philosophical sense of ‘intensity’ which, when divided, must change nature.  Deleuze’s intensity of disparate difference is the inseparability of a degree of intensity, not because it can’t divide, but because when it does, it necessarily changes its nature (DR 237).  But DeLanda leaves out Deleuze’s philosophical concept of intensity.  Being confined to the scientific plane of reference, he sees intensity only as cancelled difference covered by extensive quality.  Therefore, with division, it maintains a same value.  His thought can only maintain identity --- confusing philosophy with science and reducing his thought to an analytical philosophy of scientific realism.

DeLanda says (99), “The problem of time in a Deleuzian ontology needs to be approached in exactly the same terms as that of space: we need to conceive of a nonmetric time, a temporal continuum which through a symmetry-breaking process yields the familiar, divisible and measurable time of everyday experience.”  That is, since DeLanda is restricted to the scientific plane, he puts nonmetric time on that plane where it can’t really break the symmetry of already formed matter.  It never reaches Deleuze’s asymmetrical synthesis of the sensible-intensive.  Therefore, it can only maintain identity in emergent scales of variability in an object’s identity, tendencies, and capacities.  DeLanda sees only that type of multiplicity of scientific reference where movement is the measure of time.  But he leaves out the other type of multiplicity where Deleuze says time conditions movement.  DeLanda includes only what Deleuze calls ‘Chronos’.  He never reaches Deleuze’s ‘Aion’ because he leaves out univocality and its two types of multiplicities. Since DeLanda omits the philosophical type of multiplicity, he can't reach the scientific type either.

DeLanda’s “difference” merely maintains identity.  But isn’t such “difference” just what philosophers have always assumed?  Isn’t that just what most philosophers still assume to be unavoidable?  If this were really what Deleuze says, why would he be interesting, remarkable, or important?  What would be new or different about that which maintains the structure or image of conceptual identity?  Isn’t that structure just what Deleuze calls the Representational Image of Thought that he rejects?  “Difference” that maintains the identity of that diverse and variable Image is merely a conceptual difference.  It is still a mind-dependent Image of what is conceptually possible.  Deleuze says that if we are to reach real difference, we must reach (DR 222) that by which the given is given.  We must reach a disparate intensity.  We must reach a virtual that is not confused with a prior concept of what is possible.  Difference must not depend on what is possible in order to maintain identity.  Difference must not be restricted to the functions of scientific reference.  We must reach the intersection of two types of multiplicities --- (See What is Philosophy? p 126) philosophical intensity (inseparable variations of the concept) and scientific extensive reference (independent variables of the function).  But philosophical intensity must not be put on a scientific plane of reference where intensive difference is cancelled and covered.  Difference is sub-representative nomadic distribution not determined by any prior possibility of conceptually variable relations.  Only disparate intensive ‘difference’ is free from mind-dependence.  It is also free from any prior ideas of what objects can possibly be.  In other words, any oppositional relations, such as idealism/realism, subject/object, mind-dependence/mind-independence, cannot reach real difference.   

To reach the intensive multiplicity of the event is to reach that from which the subject is missing.  As Deleuze says (Negotiations 146), “Unity is precisely what’s missing from multiplicity, just as the subject’s what’s missing from events.”  But the speculative realists try to reach that from which the subject is missing through a na´ve denial of their own mind-dependent subjectivity. Or, they may reduce the subject to merely another object in the essential structure of identity. They never reach Deleuze’s event.    

So-called ‘Speculative Realism’ naively maintains the principle of conceptual identity.  Such conceptual invariance can only be overcome by the intersection of two types of multiplicities.  Only Deleuze’s univocal being reaches those multiplicities of real difference.   If we don’t reach the two types of multiplicities, our philosophy merely remains restricted to scientific reference that maintains a principle of conceptual identity, even though that identity may be diverse and variable.  Any continuum of real difference in variation is not given by scientific reference alone.  There must be the intersection of two types of multiplicities by which the scientific given (empirical diverse extensity) intersects with that by which the given is given (transcendental disparate intensity).  The continuous variation of intensive and extensive folding is transcendental-empiricism.  It is the source of both philosophical concepts and scientific reference as thought and extension, content and expression, are folded together with disparate difference and without prior possibility.  This intensive folding is the transcendental source of disparate uses of scientific reference.

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