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Justification or affirmation?

Christian Kerslake is perfectly right to characterize Deleuzeʼs project as ʻa philosophy of the absoluteʼ, and in particular as one conceived in more or less direct competition with that of Hegel (ʻThe Vertigo of Philosophyʼ, RP 113). He is wrong, however, to emphasize the fundamentally discontinuous evolution of this philosophy, from an early period supposedly concerned with a rigorous justification of the immanence of being to thought, to a late period characterized by a merely assertive if not ʻpre-philosophicalʼ presupposition of this immanence. He is also wrong to attribute the primary inspiration for Deleuzeʼs early effort to Kant rather than to the admittedly more familiar figure of Spinoza, or, more exactly, to a version of Spinoza filtered through Nietzsche and Bergson. By arguing against the idea that ʻimmanence is something that can be immediately affirmedʼ, by seeking out the Deleuzean equivalent of a ʻjustification of structures of knowledge and action that occupy Hegel in the Phenomenology and serve to secure the Hegelian right to absolute immanenceʼ, Kerslake hopes to preserve Deleuzeʼs philosophy of immanence ʻagainst the transgressions of theology and metaphysicsʼ. [1] But while this effort may well make Deleuze more palatable to the post-Kantian tradition, it risks downplaying some of the most distinctive and most unsettling aspects of his work. An interpretation attuned to these aspects would demonstrate, among other things, that Deleuze is nothing if not a vitalist metaphysician, that the insistently creative orientation of his ontology does indeed force him into rivalry with certain versions of theology, that his main concern is precisely with the mechanisms of immediate affirmation, and that as a result the logic of justification, no less than the related procedures of judgement and representation, has only a minimal role to play in his philosophy.

The crux of Kerslakeʼs argument turns on the suggestion that the early Deleuze ensures a genuinely critical rather than simply metaphysical or presuppositional access to noumenal being through a reworking of Kantʼs regulative Ideas of reason, conceived now as the ʻProblemsʼ of Difference and Repetition. Like Kantʼs Ideas, these latter are accessible to thought but remain ʻproblematicʼ in the sense that they do not enable the experience or knowledge of a coherent object (in Kantian terms: knowledge of my self, or of God, or of the world as a whole). Deleuzeʼs notoriously convoluted account of virtual Problems or Events might thereby enable a sort of derivation of immanence as the demonstrably legitimate dimension of philosophy, and presumably go some way towards answering Hegelʼs famous objections to Spinozaʼs own affirmation of immanence as empty and indeterminate. This exceptionally ingenious argument faces at least three related objections.

First, the primary model for the derivation of immanence in Deleuze is perhaps better described as ethical, in the Spinozist sense, than as critical in the Kantian sense. Deleuze is quite happy to acknowledge, as one of the ʻconstants of Spinozism … that one cannot begin from the idea of God, that one cannot from the outset install oneself in God.ʼ Although in Spinozist terms we are nothing other than modes of divine creative force, we begin in ignorance of what


Justification or affirmation?

To have done with justification: A reply to Christian Kerslake

Peter hallward

we are, cut off from our true power of action. The learning process that moves us from ignorant passivity to an active and adequate knowledge of being requires, among other things, the manipulation of deliberate ʻfictionsʼ. Nevertheless, once we reach the idea of God (through joyful encounters with other modes, the derivation of common notions, and so on) then ʻthis idea, as an absolute principle, frees itself from the hypothesis from which we began in order to rise to it, and grounds a sequence of adequate ideas that is identical to the construction of realityʼ. Our own causal and ontological inclusion in this sequence is the keystone of Spinozism and is fundamental to Deleuzeʼs entire project. Less than a matter of essentially problematic justification the process turns on the mere removal of finite limitations and constraints: we are facets of an infinite creativity, and it is enough for us to dissolve whatever ʻhindersʼ our awareness of this creativity in order for our own ʻpower of action to become actual, and for us to come into possession of what is innate in usʼ. [2]

In other words, the idea of immanence in Deleuze is better compared to the idea of God in Spinoza than to a variant of its Kantian alternative: if our initial access to this idea requires the invention of fictional or hypothetical means, once achieved this access retrospectively guarantees our original inclusion in noumenal being without recourse to any quasicritical justification or deduction. If we need more contemporary guidance in the art of reaching an adequate idea of immanence then the most obvious candidate is that most anti-Kantian of philosophers, Henri Bergson. Many of the guiding principles of Deleuzeʼs philosophy are already at work in his early article on ʻBergsonʼs Concept of Differenceʼ (1956) and were to change remarkably little over the next forty or so years. Against any neo-Kantian reflection of the conditions and limitations of representation, Bergson affirms an immediate insight into the literal nature of reality, the sort of intuition Deleuze and Guattari were later to attribute to the ʻharrowingʼ experience of the schizophrenic, the nomad or the artist: ʻif the conditions of real experience can and must be grasped in an intuition, it is precisely because they are the conditions of real experience …, because the concept they form is identical to its object.ʼ Against any neo-Hegelian derivation of difference from relations between things, Bergson offers nothing less than an unconditional assertion of something ʻwhich differs first with itselfʼ, namely duration. Truly creative or self-differing difference (Deleuzeʼs substitute for the prime mover of ancient and medieval cosmologies) cannot itself be derived from any more primitive principle. As for how we become aware that we ourselves are nothing other than a conscious extension of this creative differing, this again is a process that bears more resemblance to Spinozaʼs ethical or learning process than to Kantian critique. ʻWith man and man alone difference becomes consciousʼ because while duration and life are themselves ʻconsciousness by rightʼ, the emergence of historical man is required as ʻthe place in which consciousness reanimates itself and posits itself in fact, for this consciousness identical to life was asleep, numbed in matterʼ. [3] Philosophy is an alarm clock, not a critique.

In the second place, the ultimate means of legitimation in Deleuze must indeed rest on affirmation pure and simple. Already ʻwith Spinoza univocity becomes the object of a pure affirmationʼ, such that ʻthere is no question of deducing Expression: rather it is expression that embeds deduction in the Absolute, renders proof the direct manifestation of absolutely infinite substanceʼ. [4] It is above all the equation of thought with affirmation that Deleuze celebrates in the anti-Cartesian ʻnaturalismʼ he associates with both Leibniz and Spinoza – no doubt the most important contributors to the great project that links ʻLucretius to Nietzscheʼ: ʻnaturalism makes of thought and sensibility an affirmationʼ. [5] Eventual access to adequate forms of knowledge does indeed depend here on an irreducible ʻleapʼ in the most literal sense of the word. [6] It is on precisely this point that Nietzscheʼs intervention is so decisive. Deleuze accepts that ʻof course one may ask in what sense and why noble is “worth more” than baseʼ or indeed ʻwhy affirmation should be better than negation?ʼ, [7] but to a certain extent these very questions are themselves symptoms of a base or reactive orientation. Active forces indicate themselves through an affirmative power that is utterly indifferent to the business of justification, according to a logic most concisely suggested by the mechanism of the dice-throw – the divine or superhuman move whereby ʻNietzsche turns chance into an affirmationʼ. [8] It is precisely the unconditional affirmation of the whole of chance that eliminates any ʻarbitrarinessʼ in the outcome, and with it any need for a mechanism of ERRATA – Two errors crept into Christian Kerslake’s ‘The Vertigo of Philosophy’ in RP 113. On p. [18] , left column, line 15, the phrase ‘the categories of space and time’ should read, ‘the categories and space and time’. In note 2 on p. 21, the title of Deleuze’s book should read Spinoza et le problème de l’expression (not L’Idée d’expression dans la philosophie de Spinoza).legitimation as such. For reasons that Deleuze again adapts from Bergson, there can be no deducing such affirmation from anything resembling a demonstration of its logical possibility. Instead, while itʼs true that ʻindividuals suppose nothing other than Ideasʼ, the question of ʻwhere ideas come fromʼ is answered in terms that block any distinctively critical interrogation: the ultimate origin is always to be ʻassimilated to a divine and solitary gameʼ. This is nothing other than the unapologetically metaphysical game of Creation, one for which ʻthere is no pre-existent rule since the game includes its own rulesʼ, such that ʻevery time the whole of chance is affirmed in a necessarily winning throwʼ. [9] In the wake of this and Deleuzeʼs various other tests of ontological selection, ʻonly affirmation subsists as an independent power … there is no other power but affirmation, no other quality, no other elementʼ. [10]

Finally, it is misleading to present Deleuze as a philosopher much concerned with the question of an ultimate (or merely epistemological) justification in any case. There are good reasons why Deleuze is generally more interested with what goes on ʻin the middleʼ than with what might have happened, if such a question has any sense, ʻat the beginningʼ. The process of creative affirmation sweeps up both ontological claim and epistemological legitimation in a single movement of thought, itself grounded in the end by the active assertion of an unlimited creative power working at ʻinfinite speedʼ. Only when exercised as pure affirmation can thought be adequate to this infinitely creative power. The task of philosophy as Deleuze conceives it remains broadly compatible with the examples set by Bergson and Spinoza; it never concerns anything less than the invention of means to ʻliberate man from the plane or level that is proper to him, in order to make him a creator, adequate to the whole movement of creationʼ. [11]


1. ^ Christian Kerslake, ʻThe Vertigo of Philosophyʼ, Radical Philosophy 113, May/June 2002, pp. 10–11.

2. ^ Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin, Zone Books, New York, 1990, pp. 137–8, 283.

3. ^ Gilles Deleuze, ʻBergsonʼs Concept of Differenceʼ, in John Mullarkey, ed., The New Bergson, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1999, pp. 46, 48–9, 52.

4. ^ Expressionism in Philosophy, pp. 67, 22.

5. ^ Ibid., p. 227; Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, Columbia University Press,

New York, 1990, p. 279.

6. ^ Expressionism in Philosophy, p. 283; cf. Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, Zone Books, New York, 1988, p. 57.

7. ^ Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1983, p. 86.

8. ^ Ibid., p. 26. Cf. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994, p. 198.

9. ^ Difference and Repetition, pp. 252, 283; cf. Logic of Sense, p. 64.

10. ^ Nietzsche and Philosophy, p. 176. If, then, Deleuze undeniably engages with some of the major problems inherited by post-Kantian philosophy (regarding for instance the link between intuitions and concepts, the status of the regulative Ideas, the deduction or genesis of what Kant presumed to be the self-evident ʻfactsʼ of reason), again, he does so by very much those means he attributes to Nietzsche, who ʻrelies on no-one but himself to conceive and accomplish the true critique; this project is of great importance for the history of philosophy for it runs counter not only to Kantianism, with which it competes, but to the whole Kantian inheritance, to which it is violently opposed.ʼ Ibid., p. 88.

11. ^ Bergsonism, p. 111. Cf. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1986, p. 280.

Michel de certeau now

aninternational symposium16 september 2002watershed media centre, bristol

Jeremy ahearne

Ian buchanan

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Tom conley alan read

Gregory J. Seigworth Michael Sheringham

Nigel thrift

£25 (£15 concessions) (Cheques should be made payable to the ‘University of the West of England, Bristol’) For further information contact: Ben Highmore, School of Cultural Studies, UWE Bristol, St Matthias Campus, Oldbury Court Road, Bristol BS16 2JP.

Or visit: [archive] School of Cultural Studies and the Centre for Critical Theory at the University of the West of England, Bristol, present:Peter Hallward may have conceded too much in his first sentence: we agree that Deleuze is a philosopher of the Absolute, in more or less direct competition with Hegel. If the competition is not to be over very quickly, then surely Hegelʼs competitor has to be more than a ʻvitalist metaphysicianʼ, who grounds his philosophy on a ʻpure assertion of an unlimited creative powerʼ? To construct a post-Hegelian philosophy of the absolute requires a real engagement with critical and metacritical issues, which entails plunging back into the matrix of Kantianism – which Deleuze does.

There are indeed some crucial moments where Deleuze talks about his horror at the ʻtribunal of reasonʼ, and also about having done with judgement (but not justification as such). Deleuze even describes his own particular ʻproblemʼ in terms of ʻdoing away with the system of judges and replacing it with something elseʼ. [1] But the question is: how to do this effectively? Can an affirmative philosophy of immanence be produced without passing through the fire of critique? In the first phase of his work (1953–68), Deleuze attempts to revolutionize the critical project from within, by shifting its weight onto its outer limits (its teleological and systematic moments), thus effecting a kind of apocalyptic transformation of the Kantian system. [2] Deleuze frequently alludes to this project as a completion of the Copernican turn. [3]

There are problems with what Hallward wants to replace critical Deleuzeanism with. Let us neglect for the moment the possible analogies Deleuze might want to draw between Spinozaʼs three kinds of knowledge and Kantʼs notions of a priori synthesis. Suppose that Deleuzeʼs ʻderivationʼ of immanence is purely Spinozist. Hallward mentions the move from the first two kinds of knowledge to the third, which he says ʻretrospectively guarantees our original inclusion in noumenal being without recourse to any quasi-critical justification or deductionʼ. Now, how is the ʻsimple removal of finite limitations and constraintsʼ guaranteed in Spinozist terms? Isnʼt this already a critical question?

Kantʼs philosophy is a turning point because Kant denies the unproblematic transparency of being to thought. It is this ʻcrisisʼ, opened up in the famous letter to Herz of 21 February 1772, that leads to Kantʼs move to construct a ʻtranscendentalʼ account of cognition in which intuition, concept and Idea are each shown to be different in kind, so that their mutual relations need to be justified. Deleuze, too, is a transcendental philosopher in this sense, one who develops a new form of the Kantian tripartite distinction: intensities–memories–Ideas. Now, it is true that Deleuze is not predominantly concerned with epistemological justification. But that is because he thinks that knowledge, taken strictly, is not the most important element of our cognitive structure. Nevertheless, he is concerned with the issue of a priori synthesis: Deleuzeʼs three syntheses of time in Difference and Repetition present a de jure delimitation of the structural possibilities of relating intensities, memories and Ideas. Again, this is an expansion and transformation of the Kantian system, one that does not give knowledge pride of place.

The notion of affirmation cannot be separated from this account of synthesis. Following suggestions from Kant, Deleuze inscribes a teleology into his three syntheses, so that it is necessary to move beyond the synthesis of memory in order to accede to the most difficult task of affirmation of the Idea as Idea. Without these stages affirmation remains abstract. There is indeed a kind of leap involved in the thinking of the Idea, but not in the sense Hallward intimates. Just like Kierkegaardʼs Abraham, the affirmer of the eternal return must make the movement out of this finite world delimited by established concepts into the eternal matrix of the problematic Idea, and return again to the finite world, having given birth to his existence anew. This ʻdouble movementʼ is the highest form of what Deleuze calls ʻrepetitionʼ. It is the possibility of this practical moment that finally fulfils, in a metacritically powerful way, Deleuzeʼs system of difference and repetition.

Hallward seems to vacillate on a crucial issue. Either his Deleuze has some defensible way of claiming direct access to the ʻliteral nature of realityʼ;4 from this perspective he mentions that the ʻultimate means of legitimation must indeed rest on affirmation pure and simpleʼ (my stress). Or Deleuze merely asserts Copernican Deleuzeanism

Christian kerslake

access to the noumenon, and is therefore a metaphysician pure and simple. If the latter, then why read Deleuze? With what kind of meaning, for instance, should we endow peculiar claims such as ʻduration and life are “consciousness by right”ʼ? What role would such a reaffirmation of metaphysics be playing in our world?

If Deleuzeʼs thought is truly making a claim on the absolute, then the techniques and methods one uses to explore and defend it have to be, as much as possible, adequate to such a claim. Without this ʻjustificationʼ, wouldnʼt there be something potentially solipsistic about reading Deleuze? One would be merely taking a possible, somewhat aesthetic, perspective on the world, in which case one would have already secretly surrendered to our pragmatist, pluralist episteme. But why not risk a more dangerous thought: Deleuze may have been serious when he claimed to have uncovered ʻthe only realized Ontologyʼ…5


1. ^ See Deleuzeʼs comments on Kant in LʼAbécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, dir. P.-A. Boutang, Video Editions Montparnasse, 1996.

2. ^ In my article I had to exclude any discussion of how Deleuzeʼs philosophical affirmation of absolute problematicity is framed in terms of Nietzscheʼs eternal return.

Deleuzeʼs teleology, at its highest point, necessitates an apocalyptic ʻend of all thingsʼ: the eternal return is the ʻfinal end of timeʼ (Difference and Repetition [French text cited second], pp. 94/125). Against Kantʼs continual reaffirmation that the boundaries of the unconditioned are marked out by the metaphysical triangle of self–world–God, Deleuze ultimately unveils a new apocalyptic trinity: fractured I–world without horizon–dead God.

3. ^ Many passages in Difference and Repetition attest to this: cf. pp. 86/117, 162/210, 180/233, 249/320.

4. ^ It is suggested that Deleuze is permitted this due to his Bergsonism. Again, canʼt Bergsonism be read as an attempt to recast Bergson in Kantian terms? Deleuze refuses a straightforward interpretation of Bergsonian intuition, talking in Kantian terms about moving ʻbeyond experienceʼ (p. 27). Hallward also refers to Deleuzeʼs quest to find the ʻconditions of real experienceʼ in the early essay on Bergson. This ambiguous phrase is also important in Difference and Repetition, where it is referred back to problematic Ideas (cf. 154/200, 162/210). In Kantʼs Critical Philosophy it is clear that the ʻconditions of real experienceʼ are being related to the Ideas (trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, Athlone, London, 1984, pp. 62f). I donʼt want to suggest that everything important in Deleuze comes back to Kant – but I do think that none of his explorations of other philosophers (Spinoza, Hume, Leibniz,

Bergson) is comprehensible without a framework of Kantian and post-Kantian questions.

5. ^ Difference and Repetition, pp. 303/387.

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