Concepts as Continuous Variations

An Interview with Daniel Smith, in the Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry, a quarterly publication of the Society for Philosophy and Literary Studies (Kathmandu, Nepal), Vol. 5, No. 11 (Winter 2010); Yubraj Aryal, editor, pp. 57-60.
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   Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry, Winter 2010, Vol. 5, No. 11 57   Deleuze: Concepts as Continuous Variation (Justin Litaker, a philosophy PhD student at Purdue University, interviewed Daniel W. Smith. Mr. Litaker focused his questions on the nature of continuous variation of concepts in Deleuze ). JL :  How did you come to be interested in the work of Gilles Deleuze, and what sustains your interest? DW S  :  I first became interested in Deleuze when I was in graduate school. I was reading Nietzsche when the English translation of Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy   came out. So I read the book and was amazed at the way Deleuze had systematized Nietzsche’s thought. It made Nietzsche much more accessible for me, and I found it a very exciting read. At the time, there weren’t many translations of Deleuze’s works available, so I went to the library at the University of Chicago and discovered Difference and Repetition  on the shelves. I thought it must contain the secret of Deleuze’s work, which was only hinted at in Nietzsche and Philosophy  . So right at the start, Nietzsche and Philosophy instilled in me a kind of conviction that Deleuze was worth reading, and that there was much more in his work that I needed to find out about. I had also been reading Vincent Descombes’ book Modern French Philosophy  , and he had isolated Derrida and Deleuze as the focal points of contemporary French philosophy. So I knew that Deleuze was more than a historian of philosophy, and that he had a project of his own, which was, at the very least, oriented around the concept of difference. There and then, I decided that I needed to learn French in order to read Difference and Repetition . You asked what has sustained my interest in Deleuze through the years. For one, I’ve never tired of reading Deleuze, whereas there came a point when I started reading Derrida less and less. Rightly or wrongly—certainly wrongly—I felt I had a sense of what Derrida was up to, whereas even now I don’t think I have a complete sense of what Deleuze is up to. I think this is partly because of his manner of writing, which has been described as  “free indirect discourse.” Deleuze has written numerous monographs in the history of philosophy—on Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, Leibniz, Bergson, and so on—but in each book he is also reading and using these thinkers toward his own philosophical ends, so that in Nietzsche and Philosophy  , for instance, there is a becoming-Nietzsche of Deleuze as well as a becoming-Deleuze of Nietzsche. Readers are thus caught up in what Deleuze would call a becoming, or a zone of indiscernibility. Reading Deleuze is more like following a trajectory or a continuous movement that you never have done with, rather than arriving at a set of doctrines or positions that would lie at the heart of Deleuze’s thought. Right now I’m trying to write a book on Deleuze. At one point, Deleuze says that he still believes in philosophy as a system, and I initially thought, well great, I’ll try to elucidate Deleuze’s system of philosophy. I thought I’d approach Deleuze’s system using Kant as a model, since Kant has a very architectonic idea of what philosophy is. So I borrowed five rubrics from Kant’s system: aesthetics (the theory of space and time, the theory of art, the theory of sensibility), analytics (the theory of concepts in the Transcendental Deduction), Dialectics (the theory of the idea), ethics, and politics. I figured I would start from Kant,   Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry, Winter 2010, Vol. 5, No. 11 58   then show how Deleuze modifies Kant, and in the process of doing that I would be able to produce some version of what Deleuze’s system is. That, at least, was my initial idea for the book. But of course it has all turned out to be much more complicated than that. Although Deleuze says he is interested in philosophy as a system, he also says he thinks of his own system as being “heterogenetic,” that is, it is itself a genesis of the heterogeneous, the production of the new, the production of difference. What this means is that Deleuze’s own system modifies itself over the course of its development; it is itself heterogenetic, constantly producing the new. Deleuze gives an example of this in his preface to the Italian translation of his book Logic of Sense , where he takes as one of his examples his own concept of intensity. He more or less says, “In Difference and Repetition  I developed a concept of intensity that was related to a notion of depth. In Logic of Sense , I retained the concept of intensity, but the concept was transformed because it was related to a new problem, the problem of surfaces. Now I’m writing a new book with Guattari,  Anti-Oedipus , in which the concept of intensity no longer refers to either   depth or surface, but instead refers to something that takes place on a ‘body without organs.’” So here we have three books by Deleuze that utilize the concept of intensity, but the concept changes in each of those books. There is a kind of ‘becoming’ of the concept, which is marked by its own internal variations, depending on the problematic it is responding to. In What is Philosophy?  , which is the last book Deleuze wrote with Guattari, he utilizes the concept of intensity yet again, but now in a fourth sense, where it designates the internal components of a concept. All this has changed my understanding of how to approach Deleuze, since his “system” is in a perpetual state of becoming, and his concepts are all marked by internal mutations and variations—which makes it very difficult to “plot out” the system, as it were. It’s far more complicated than the movement of contradiction and negation that one finds in Hegel’s system and concepts, which is why Deleuze is both indebted to Hegel and breaks decisively from him. Moreover, when you write on Deleuze, you get caught up in that becoming yourself: there is a becoming-Smith of Deleuze and a becoming-Deleuze of Smith. In writing on Deleuze, you yourself become something other and his work becomes something other: you never get to the end of the process. As Nelson Goodman might say, Deleuze’s writing exemplifies  what it refers  to: the idea of rhizomes and multiplicities, with their infinite connections and transformations. That’s why writing a book on Deleuze is so challenging: at best, it’s going to be a snapshot of a movement of thought that is a continuous and never-ending process. JL :  Deleuze always talked about philosophy as the creation of concepts. Given that Deleuze will use certain terms in radically different ways between texts, does this mean that each appearance of the concept signals an act of creation for Deleuze. What then allows for the continuity between these concepts with their internal variations, from one text to the next? Is there something continuous? And what does this continuity mean? DW S  :  There is a consistency to a concept like intensity, but consistency is not the same as identity. In What is Philosophy?  , Deleuze and Guattari provide, as an example of this, an analysis of Descartes’ concept of the cogito , which, they suggest, has three fundamental components: doubting, thinking, and existing. In order to doubt I have to be thinking, and to think I have to exist. But obviously doubting, thinking, and being are themselves   Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry, Winter 2010, Vol. 5, No. 11 59   complicated concepts, which the concept of the cogito  simply gives consistency to, given the context of Descartes’ problematic concerning the search for certainty. But then Kant comes along and says, ok, I understand what Descartes is doing, but Descartes has forgotten an essential component of the concept of the cogito . He neglected to ask the question: What are the conditions under which the cogito  is determinable  as an existing being? For Kant, the answer to this question is time, and Kant therefore introduces a mutation into the concept of the cogito  by adding the component of temporality. There is indeed, as you suggest, a continuity between the two concepts, but this continuity is something that is  produced  . So you get this image of philosophy as a proliferating network of concepts, in which internal variation is the condition for the consistency of concepts. I think a key notion here, in trying to trace out the trajectory of these Deleuzian concepts – or for that matter, any   concept in the history of philosophy – is the notion of  problematics . The creation of concepts for Deleuze is always linked to a problem. In Leibnizian terms, the problematic is the sufficient reason for the creation of concepts. Put crudely, you create new concepts because the old concepts have been problematized in some way. Kant is forced to transform the concept of the cogito  because his problem is no longer the search for certainty but rather the search for the conditions of possible experience. In fact, Kant was a master at conceptual innovation. There’s a wonderful passage, in the Critique of Pure Reason , at the beginning of the Transcendental Dialectic, where Kant introduces his concept of an Idea . The concept of an Idea was, of course, created by Plato in response to a particular problem, namely, Socrates posing of the “What is…?” question—What is Justice? What is Courage? What is Beauty? Socrates never gives a response to these questions, but Plato’s genius lies in having constructed   a response, which is precisely his creation of the concept of the Idea. Only the Idea is what it is; only the Idea is  the beautiful in and of itself, for instance, which examples of beautiful things participate in. Kant comes along and discovers that he has a similar problem—its not the same problem, but it’s not unrelated. Kant’s problem is that we seem to have certain concepts—such as the Self, the World, and God—that by their very nature go beyond the possibility of us ever having any experience of them whatsoever. We can think   these concepts, he says, but we can never know   them. We can think that we have a Soul or Self that persists over time, but we have no experience of the self—only the flux of perceptions or intuitions—and therefore no knowledge of it. We can easily think of the World as the totality of what is, but we can have no experience of this totality, and thus no knowledge of it. For Kant, the Soul, the World, and God are Ideas that go beyond any possible experience. So in this passage, Kant is saying, “I, as a philosopher, am looking for a word to designate these special concepts that go beyond any possible experience.” And he straightforwardly lays out his options: he could borrow a word from everyday language, he could use a technical Latin phrase, he could simply make something up, or he could dip into the history of philosophy and find someone who invented a concept for a similar problem and then modify that concept. Kant opts for this latter option. Plato was saying that the Ideas are not something we ever encounter in experience, since what we encounter in experience are only examples or instances of Ideas. Since the concepts Kant has in mind (Self, World, God) are never encountered in experience either, he decides to take up Plato’s concept of the Idea, and modify it for his our purposes. In this sense, what takes place within Deleuze’s philosophy—a constant transformation of concepts, with their internal mutations and variations—simply recapitulates what takes   Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry, Winter 2010, Vol. 5, No. 11 60   place in the history of philosophy. Plato creates the concept of the Idea, and Kant picks up the concept and modifies it. And the story doesn’t end there: Hegel in turn modifies Kant’s notion of Idea in his own way by introduction “moments” in Ideas. In a sense, this is how Deleuze sees the entire history of philosophy: it is a constantly shifting matrix of concepts that are created or modified at particular times and places under the compulsion of an equally shifting set of problematics. JL :  The concept of the Idea is such a perfect example here, since one finds it almost ubiquitously throughout the history of philosophy. Leibniz returns to Plato for Ideas in much the same way as Kant. But it is not restricted to philosophy. I was reading Jung the other day and was surprised to find that he derives his concept of the Archetype from Plato’s concept of Ideas—though he will later distinguish between the pure types or  “archetypal ideas” from archetypes, the former being what he calls “universal images” while the latter are more like patterns of behavior. DW S  :  Yes, one could say that Jung does something similar to Kant in taking up the Platonic notion of the Idea and modifying it in his own way for his theory of archetypes. In a similar vein, Mircea Eliade, in Cosmos and History  , has suggested that Plato was simply giving philosophical expression to certain aspects of archaic religion, such as the repetition of myths in rituals. JL :  Of course, Deleuze takes up the notion of the Idea as well. DW S  :  With regard to the theory of Ideas, Deleuze stands in this great tradition that extends from Plato through Kant and Hegel. In Difference and Repetition , Deleuze himself will propose a new and immanent theory of Ideas as problematic, or, as Kant said,  “problems without solution.” He distinguishes Ideas from concepts, and interestingly, in Difference and Repetition  he still interprets concepts in a traditional sense as representational. Even though he is constantly saying that philosophy is the creation of concepts, it is not until late in his career, in What is Philosophy?  , that Deleuze asks, What do I mean when I use this term. Difference and Repetition  proposed a “dialectic of Ideas,” to use Kant’s terminology, but it is only in What is Philosophy?   that he attempts to formulate his own “analytic of concepts.” I know some scholars of Deleuze’s work who think that what Deleuze calls an Idea in Difference and Repetition  is the same as whathe calls a Concept in What is Philosophy?  . since he talks about them in similar terms, as multiplicities. I myself don’t think this is the case, since Ideas, as problematics, are the conditions through which one creates philosophical concepts. These problematics have an intelligibility of their own that is accessible to thought—which is why Deleuze calls them Ideas. But the concepts that are created, while they are derived from the problematics, as their condition, are nonetheless distinguishable from it. In this sense, one way to read Difference and Repetition —there are many other ways—is in Leibnizian terms, as a search into the roots of sufficient reason. Deleuze, however, moves beyond Leibniz’s rationalism and his theological presuppositions because he says there is a kind of bend or twist in sufficient reason where the ground inevitably turns over into something that is ungrounded or catastrophic, to use the old term. This is why Ideas are both critical and creative: they critique or problematize any given order, but at the same time they are the germ for the genesis of the new. One of the issues that lies at the heart of What is Philosophy?   is the problem of the categories. Aristotle has a list of ten categories; Kant proposed a new list of twelve categories. For both of them, a category is, roughly speaking, a concept that is applicable   Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry, Winter 2010, Vol. 5, No. 11 61   to any object whatsoever of our experience (whereas an Idea is a concept of an object we can never have an experience of). The concept of causality is an easy example: any object of experience that we could come across is caused by something else and this in turn causes other things. So causality, Kant would say, is a universal concept applicable to any object of experience; or more precisely, it is the categories that condition any possible experience we can have. Now a philosophy of difference like Deleuze’s cannot, by its very nature, be a philosophy of categories, at least in the Aristotelian or Kantian sense. Categories are universals that condition, in advance, any possible experience. Deleuze, however, is not interested in the conditions of possible experience, but rather, as he says, the conditions of real experience—and the conditions of real experience are the conditions of the new (heterogenesis). So in a sense, Deleuze was trying to think through a kind of  “transcendental deduction” of the categories, but in a new way, so that the concept of a category has itself be transformed. The categories can no longer be universals, but must themselves be capable of transforming themselves—mutating and changing—in order to account for the new. This, in itself, is a revolution in philosophy. In order for the conditions to account for difference, or the new, the conditions must be differential through and through, so that any actualization of these conditions is itself a difference, or something new. The categories must have a consistency of their own and yet contain within themselves a heterogenetic   capacity. Deleuze doesn’t talk about all this explicitly in What is Philosophy?  , but in prior interviews, he says that it was the problems of the categories that motivated his writing of the book. JL :  The theory of Ideas seems to largely disappear from Deleuze’s work after Difference and Repetition . Or are they implied by the notion of problematics, which seems to be a consistent notion for Deleuze with relatively little variation? DW S  :  It’s true that Deleuze doesn’t talk about Ideas much after Difference and Repetition . It’s almost as if, in Difference and Repetition , Deleuze was inserting himself into the Platonic and Kantian tradition and asking what a properly immanent way of characterizing Ideas would be, and his answer is that Ideas are problematic multiplicities. Afterward, it’s as if he felt free to break from this tradition and let go of the notion of Ideas, even if he initially needed that tradition to formulate the notions of  problematic and multiplicity  . That’s just a conjecture on my part, but you’re right—it’s interesting that the notion of Ideas disappears but that notions of the problematic and of multiplicity do not. JL :  It’s also interesting that Kant, his “enemy”, seems to always be lurking in the background of Deleuze’s texts. DW S  :  I think one of the most overused texts for people writing on Deleuze is his Letter to a Harsh Critic  , his letter to Michel Cressole. People always cite that line about Deleuze seeing Kant as an “enemy,” and then they cite the line about Deleuze seeing the history of philosophy as a kind of buggary, or an immaculate conception where he approaches an author from behind and produces monstrous offspring. Both comments are interesting, and accurate. However, Deleuze relied on Kant enormously; he was an enemy Deleuze had to reckon with. As Deleuze says elsewhere, you have to love something before you can even write a word on it. If Kant was an enemy, Deleuze loved his enemy as a worthy enemy, in the Nietzschean sense. You have to have enemies you can respect It’s like when Caesar goes to Egypt and discovers that Pompey has been murdered and Caesar is furious that they summarily executed his nonetheless sworn enemy, since this was not the respect due to a worthy enemy. That’s the kind of relation Deleuze had with Kant. Deleuze says he wrote his book on Kant in order to show how the machinery of the critical philosophy
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