Common senses

Deleuze and Lyotard between ground and form

RP 197 () / Article

‘One day, perhaps, this century will be known as Deleuzian.’ This is how Michel Foucault famously opened his admiring review of Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. [1] Responding to the praise, Deleuze merely called attention to the hint of humour underlying Foucault’s remark. [2] Yet to give it a serious meaning, one should place the remark in the context of French structuralism. Not only was Deleuze never particularly affected by the eminently Heideggerian topos of the ‘overcoming of metaphysics’, as he himself pointed out, but through his speculative enterprise he actively participated in the development of structuralism. In this context, Difference and Repetition constitutes a metaphysical repetition of the structuralist zeitgeist. This becomes clear if one notes the definite correspondence between the arguments of Difference and Repetition and the article, presumed to be written in 1967, ‘How Do We Recognize Structuralism?’, which first appeared in a 1972 volume on the History of Philosophy edited by François Châtelet. [3] Indeed, it could be shown that the structuralist metaphysics presented in Difference and Repetition conforms exactly to the claims advanced in that article.

However, the meaning of Deleuze’s ‘structuralism’ requires some explanation. His speculative thinking or rethinking of structures hinges on their re-grounding in a fundamental differential genesis, which transforms them into the surface outcome of a deeper interplay of forces. Through this highly distinctive interaction between depth and surface one catches a first – one might call it Nietzschean – strategy for avoiding Hegelianism, since it is only on the surface that forces find themselves in opposition to one another. [4] The problem, however, is that by plunging into the depths Deleuze commits himself to the becoming or genesis of a single and unique individual – the ‘depths of the immediate’, as he calls them, are inherently solipsistic. He states this at the end of Difference and Repetition in a direct reference to Sartre. Here, the figure of the thinker, as the ‘bearer’ or ‘vehicle’ of a thought that is the outcome of a fulguration of force, is ‘necessarily solitary and solipsistic’. [5]

In this way, the depth–surface relationship appears to restore Hegelianism’s ‘global model’. However much Deleuze might seek to play expression against dialectic, intuition against mediation, the result remains the same. He faces a dualism that he wants to reduce, but this reduction is equivalent to a dialectical operation. [6] Still, this problem only concerns us in so far as we wish to consider Deleuze’s initial relationship to Sartre. Sartre, of course, builds on Hegel, and borrows from him the problem of the confrontation between separate consciousnesses, which he turns into a dialectical struggle for recognition. But this type of struggle, which is a particular species of opposition, only intervenes very late within the conceptual framework of Difference and Repetition. When a force completes its journey towards individuation, it comes across other forces. But, as Deleuze suggests, this is less a matter of opposition and more one of difference, because the active force now looms over the reactive force in all its difference and distinction. Deleuze here traces the source of the active force back to its deeper differential genesis, which precedes all fulgurating differentiation on the surface.

It is only then that this force – or the set of forces united around a dominant force – meets the other. And it is here, and not earlier, that Deleuze mentions Sartre. The question now is whether there can be a confrontation between individuals whose constitution rests on the becoming of one or several forces – just as there is opposition between forces through differentiation, a confrontation whose outcome would be known in advance because everything would already have been played out in the depth below, where at least one of the forces must go to find more forces before imposing itself on the others on the surface. The answer, for Deleuze, must be no, since there can be no opposition between individuals whose individuation has taken place within the same field of forces. Deleuze eschews this type of confrontation by placing the other …