Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16.5 (Gilles Deleuze)

Deleuze, Gilles
Difference & Repetition

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books for the amazingly low price of $18.50. There must have been a sale, because books by academic presses are routinely overpriced, and these days $18.50 would seem quite reasonable for a paperback book. I either purchased this for a class or for my oral exam lists in graduate school. I think I bought it for a class with Elizabeth Grosz, but I am not positive. It's also possible I bought it for a course with Rodolphe Gasché, who was also a member of my oral exam committee.

I once read an interview with Toni Morrison in which she said that one of the most important books in her intellectual development was Finnegan's Wake. She's said it was important despite the fact that she really didn't understand most of it. I think her basic point was that understanding everything about a work of art is not the most essential thing in experiencing it, and that the work of understanding, of reading and experiencing and trying to make sense of a work is where its true value lies. I guess it would follow that one might to some extent judge the quality of a work by determining through close reading whether or not it continues to be useful.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I have read this book twice, that I don't really understand most of it, and that it has nonetheless been incredibly useful for me. Sentences like the following have left me dazzled and puzzled and pleased as I have read them again and again (and now again):

Only the shadows of history live by negation: the good enter into it with all the power of a posited differential or a difference affirmed; they repel shadows into the shadows and deny only as the consequence of a primary positivity and affirmation.

This is a full-blown Nietzschean assault on dialectical thought, but it's also a kind of poetic manifesto that ties the thinking in this book all the way back to Deleuze's book on Nietzsche, which I posted on a few days ago, wherein the creative power (and thus the value of art) is in its "positing" and not in its "negating," in its affirmation of itself and not in its negating of some prior moment.

Which probably sounds like I have a decent understanding of this book, but I don't, really. I understand the concepts of affirmation/negation, and have found them very useful, but I have never quite grasped what he means by either "difference" or "repetition." I kind of get 'difference' -- that each thing -- organic or conceptual -- is made up of distinct other things which are in turn made up of distinct other things into infinity and that all these distinct other things are held together in some way through the concept of representation. I sort of read that as taking the extreme side of the "many" in the "is the universe one or many" argument. That said, I couldn't even paraphrase what he means by "repetition."

Feel free to explain it to me.

Anyhow, here's a brief excerpt that I have always liked, especially the part about the "thought without image":

The theory of thought is like painting: it needs that revolution which took art from representation to abstraction. This is the aim of a theory of thought without image.

1 comment:

Joseph Mailander said...

I'll just tell you what I think, but I wouldn't presume to call it explaining.

Difference is easy, it defines being, from being to being. It might as well be "point of view." We're unique. The bird and the cat are unique, they have unique beings, they're different.

Repetition, however, is more Kantian. It is that that lies beneath the "surface" of the uniqueness; it lies beneath what we see .

Kant I think is exploring in Critique of Pure Reason the externality of perception and the ramifications of being unable to experience the totality of an object. Deleuze I think in Difference and Repetition is exploring the internality of being, but doing it the way Kant did it, looking at the ramifications of being only able to see surfaces within our own consciousness.

Repetition is not pattern recognition, that's mere observation and it's external. Repetition is true similarity inside the conscious from conscious to conscious, a similarity we sense we have but of course we cannot see, as we cannot see the interior of an object, only its surface.

Quite frankly, I think it was an early nod to structuralism, but Deleuze moved in another direction.

Deleuze knows that we can't look at our own mind so easily as we can an external object. And I probably shouldn't even be giving a recollection of what these terms might mean, as it's been a long time since I've read it.

I will say that there's a passage in Stanley Cavell's In Quest of the Ordinary that describes the whole Critique of Pure Reason optimally in five paragraphs. And I think that that book's approach to perception is fundamental to Deleuze's early approach to consciousness.