I’ve still got one more thing I need to do before it’s officially summer, but I’ve already jumped ahead a bit to other reading. I’ve read most of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, the beginning of Nagel’s View From Nowhere and today started Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. Let the summer of irritating books begin! Actually, while I do find those books – or rather, the idioms I associate with them – irritating, a more apt characterization than irritating is enervating. Case in point: Difference and Repetition. A few years ago I decided to read this book. I read the introduction three times and was totally mystified (and I’ve read much of the Kierkegaard that I think he’s talking about), mystified not in a way that left me wanting to unravel the puzzle but mystified in a “why am I even bothering?” sort of way. When that feeling began to set in today as I read the intro I marked the page and jumped ahead to chapter one. As a result, I’m now five pages further in the book than I would have been otherwise. Huzzah! In january I was at one of many very long union meetings. Many people were tired and wanted to adjourn. A friend and I who had been around longer than many said we’d have been happy to keep going. We (half)joked that the main thing one gains the longer one is in the union is the ability to endure longer and longer meetings. I hope that the summer of enervating books will have the same impact on me: my will won’t increase so much as become less susceptible to being sapped.

Here are my notes thus far on D&R. I like the characterization in the translator’s preface of Deleuze’s project as “a critique” which operates “by proposing a retrospective analysis on the basis of an alternative.” (xi.) That’s quite lovely and characterizes many things which I like.

In the beginning of the introduction Deleuze contrasts repetition and generality. The latter “expresses a point of view according to which one term may be exchanged or substituted for another.” “By contrast (…) repetition is a necessary and justified conduct only in relation to that which cannot be replaced. Repetition (…) concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities. Reflections, echoes, doubles and souls do not belong to the domain or resemblance or equivalence (…) If exchange is the criterion of generality, theft and gift are those of repetition. There is, therefore, an economic difference between the two.” (1.)

First ambiguity: are generality and repetition perspectives? Or is generality a perspective and repetition something else? Or are they both something else? The “point of view” comment suggests either the first or the second. Deleuze talks about repetition in a way which doesn’t sound like a perspective: repetition is okay only when dealing with the irreplaceable, not with the treated-as-irreplaceable. This implies that some things really are exchangeable and substitutable without slippage or problems – areas where generality is appropriate – and others which are not. Fine and good, if this is from some perspective. If it’s aperspectival, however, then this doesn’t work.

Deleuze writes of “two languages,” that of science “dominated by the symbol of equality, in which each term may be replaced by others; and lyrical language, in which every term is irreplaceable and can only be repeated.” (2.) Excellent. This suggests perspectives, because one can use either language about anything (unless Deleuze wants to say there are things which, due to their own inherent traits, are predisposed toward one or the other type of language).

“Natural phenomena are produced in a free state, where (…) everything reacts on everything else, and everything resembles everything else (resemblance of the diverse with itself.) However, experimentation constitutes relatively closed environments in which phenomena are defined in terms of a small number of chosen factors.” (3.)

Three things. First, which comes first, methodologically that is, the free or the experimental? It’s tempting to say the free, as natural phenomena arose prior to experimentation, but it’s also tempting to say the free is retroactively posited after the existence of the experimental. Similarly – is the free state in which natural phenomena are produced an actual condition of everything acting on everything else etc, or is it a condition implied by the experimental condition? If the latter, this would be because the presence and produced-ness of the experimental makes it seem reasonable to imagine an absence of the experimental, some non-produced non-experimental condition.
Second, the ‘resemblance of the diverse with itself’? Does ‘resemblance’ = ‘identity’? If so, then Deleuze is positing a self-identical multiplicity. It’s also worth noting that later on Deleuze posits resemblance as one of the “four principal aspects to ‘reason’ in so far as it is a medium of representation”, representation being of generality and not of difference or repetition. (29.) This suggests that Deleuze is here thinking the diverse via the general, and seems to be doing so in a way that suggests that the generality in/of the diverse is not perspectival (that is, that it is not epistemological but ontological).
Third, what is Deleuze’s attitude toward experimentation here? He calls it “a matter of substituting one order of generality for another: an order of equality for an order of resemblance.” (3.) It seems to me that the experimental quality – the constitution of “relatively closed environments in which phenomena are defined in terms of a small number of chosen factors” (relatively small in that there are other factors which could have been chosen and were not) – is a part of what it is to have any perspective whatsoever, such that the non-experimental could only be the non-perspectival.


Deleuze’s first chapter title may be indicative. “Difference in itself.” I’m not disposed toward a friendly or charitable reading (my previous objections, or perhaps character flaws, aside). Difference is never in itself but is always in between other things – difference is the difference between things. Difference is like a grammatical connecting term – there is no more difference itself than there is a concept of “to” or “the,” it’s relational, it’s found in conjunction or relation with another term. Deleuze says we should not think “of something distinguished from something else” but instead “something which distinguishes itself – and yet that from which it distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it.” (28.) Okay, first off (and I know I’m peevish here, but I can’t help it), that example is sentence is crap. Deleuze says “don’t think of E but rather of S, as an example of S imagine L which is as if it were S.” (Don’t think of a chow pluk’r, think of a fling’n’flanker. For example Beanish, who flinged’n’flanked prior to breaking out to create the LookSeeShow.) That’s not an example, it doesn’t illustrate anything! If one doesn’t already know what “distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it” means then the example doesn’t tell you much. If one does already know what one that quoted phrase means then one doesn’t need the example. As is clear, I’m not clear at all what’s meant here, though I do like the idea that difference is made not found. (28.)

I wonder if this, clothed in rhetorical questions, will prove indicative: “the philosophy of difference (…) [w]ill (…) lead towards an absolute concept, once liberated from the condition which made difference an entirely relative maximum” (33). If so, then I think it’s wrongheaded. Absolutes are to be rejected (absolutely!). Absolute difference is nonsensical (relatively speaking).

Deleuze cites Aristotle, writing the “Being itself is not a genus” – defined here are “an undetermined concept” – “because differences are”. (32.) I’m not clear at all what this means (I have no Aristotle chops). It seems to me that the difference between two things could be said to “be” but could also be said to not be, to be a matter of negation. Or, one could that this just a confusion due to language: we say “the difference is” and we say “the dog barks” but the grammatical parallel misleads us. There isn’t any thing called difference which does the action “is.” Deleuze seems to reject this position, though, calling for a non-Aristotelian thought. Fair enough. Perhaps I’m pushing on an open door, agreeing with Deleuze in disagreeing with Aristotle.

What does “univocal” mean? Deleuze insists on the univocity of being. (35.) Perhaps I don’t like Deleuze for whatever reason it is that I don’t like ontology, I dunno.

Deleuze writes that “Being is the same for all (…) modalities, but these modalities are not the same.” (36.) Excellent. I take this as part of deflationary argument against doing ontology, though, being interested not in what everything has in common with everything else – that which one can not but catch in one’s net regardless of whatever else one catches or fails to catch.

On univocity: “With univocity (…) it is not the differences which are and must be: it is being which is Difference, in the sense that it is said of difference.” (39.) I think this may be a grammatical confusion again. “[B]eing is said of difference” may be an obtuse way to say something like “sometimes we say things like ‘(the) difference is …’.” In that case, “being is said of difference” is really just another way to say “difference is/differences are.” (Also in that case, the ascription of difference to being (like that of being to difference) makes no more sense than to say that “the dog barks” means either “barking is said of dogs” or “dogs are said of barking.”) If that’s not what “being is said of …” means then I retract the claim, but I have no idea else that phrase could mean.

Deleuze makes what I think will turn out be something of a programmatic statement: “That identity not be first, that it exist as a principle but as a second principle, as a principle become; that it revolve around the Different: such would be the nature of a Copernican revolution which opens up the possibility of having its own concept, rather than being maintained under the domination of a concept in general already understood as identical.” (40-41.)

Overstated rhetorical quibble: “under the domination” is overstated and unfair, positioning Deleuze against domination and those who disagree as for it. The metaphor provides an implied normative content here which is not argued for (one could make a similar move against Deleuze, about sneaky or skulking normative content, say).

(Hopefully) More substantive objections: all principles become, come second, the owl of Minerva flies at dusk etc. Unless one wants to say there are some principles which really do inhere in the world, principles which we should seek to approximate to as best we’re able. (This is maybe the ontology thing again?) Also, difference can’t be primary. Difference is always difference-from. (Ditto for sameness, of course, which is always sameness-of or with.) This just sounds to me like yet another search for first principles (or battle for, in the limited regicidal sense of wanting to depose the current but to prop up a new one).

Two more objections, or maybe just one. What does it mean for something to have “its own concept”? Should the propertarian metaphor of “having its own” raise any eyebrows here? And insofar as difference is an “it” – “the Different”, difference rather than differences – how does this avoid precisely an identity-fication of difference? Why not many differences instead of “the Different”?

Deleuze then invokes Nietzsche, who I don’t know. He lauds the eternal return, which “presuppsoes a world in which all previous identities have been abolished and dissolved.” (41.) This might mean “all previous so-called identities” in which case it’s a critical argument: ostensible identities weren’t identities at all, or ostensibly coherent identities weren’t coherent – in that case the abolition is a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes argument, showing that a machine has never worked as opposed to wrecking it. Or it might be a historical argument: some identities which once were now are not, they have passed out of existence, abolition in the sense of having been broken or eliminated. If the latter is the case, then this still starts from identity.

“Repetition is (…) identity as a secondary power.” It “consists in conceiving the same on the basis of the different.” (41.) Well and good, but how else might identity be thought? Insofar as identity is identity-of, identity is always predicated on the difference between the two or more things which are different from each other. Likewise difference is always difference-between such that difference is always predicated on a prior identity. Both terms (or each term?) can only ever be thought (correctly, that is) as secondary (or nth, where n is greater than 1.) I may again be pressing at an open door, or/and perhaps my objection is that I take this as trivially true. If so, I do concede that triviality is in the eye of the beholder and my “trivia” may be someone else’s “Holy Whatsits, I never thought of that before!” (though I doubt it, it’s pretty much always the reverse.)

More enervated but at least this time I reached the end of what I’ve read such that my notes are now up to date with what I read and had a response to. I found the text slightly less enervating as I go on, perhaps I’m developing antibodies. I’m off to bed.