Deleuze, G. (2014). Difference and repetition. (P. Patton, Trans.). London & New York: Bloomsbury. (Original work published 1968).
Because it is sometimes a thick sludge, sometimes a dizzying precipice, we move through Deleuze very slowly. And, almost always with the support of our fabulous co-reader, Charlotte Arculus. At first, we tackled this text head on, from the translators preface on in. But after hitting philosophical quagmire after philosophical quagmire, we decided to change our tactics. Encouraged by the sense that repetition is key to this text, we are now working to navigate its dense page-long paragraphs at relative whim. Starting where we like, reading aloud over Skype, repeating what we need, and leaning into wikipedia for all those scholastic referatti, we are crawling through this text with turns of delight and terror on almost every page.
The page references below are from my edition of this book, printed by Bloomsbury Academic Press in 2017. But, you can also find a copy of this text online. This online version of the text comes with an incredibly useful map/list of the topic in each chapter. I have used these in my reflections below.
This is Deleuze’s PhD dissertation and his first work of philosophy. His basic compliant is that philosophers subordinate difference to identity. What he means by this is that philosophers always deal with specific differences, which presuppose a shared concept at a higher order. Difference is paired with resemblance, opposition and analogy rather than existing in its own right.
so that difference is only understood as generating the ideas of sameness, the similarity, opposition or analogy. Thinkers do this because it is easier to think difference from the point of view of the concept or subject. In this way, difference becomes about looking a specific differences, which presuppose a shared concept at a higher order.
Repetition is also thought in term of the identical, similar, equal or opposed. It is difference without concept (?). The idea of repetition changes if we reverse this: variation is not added to repetition but is its condition, a constitutive element.
Deleuze draws on Plato, Hume, Bergson, Nietzsche and Kant to bring together his ideas about difference, critiquing representation by replacing it with the expression or actualization of ideas. In French, there is a significant difference between differencier, which is re“to make or become different” and mathematical “differentiate” or differentier. Deleuze also steals the term “multiplicity” from the French mathematical term for manifold.
In writing this text, Deleuze worked at a cusp of philosophical influences in France, contending with the declining clout of “the three H’s” – Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger – and the rising tides of “the three master of suspicion” – Marx, Neitzsche and Freud (Descombes, Modern French Philosophy, 1979). Deleuze writes from a place that is frustratingly deep in this philosophical morass, although it is easy to trace out his future collusions with Feliz Guattari from this text. The links, for example, between repetition and the refrain are tight: while the generalities of science carve out homogenized territories from chaos, repetition and refrain act as fissures underneath, cracking open this territory through improvisational invention. Similarly, Deleuze’s early concern with the violent powers of the law (societal, natural or otherwise) cannot be missed. The influence of Deleuze’s writing is further echoed in Rosi Braidotti’s chapter on death in The Posthuman (more on that later).
At the start of D&R, Deleuze sets out to correct a serious philosophical misconception: “Repetition is not generality” (1). These two concepts, which hover around sameness and recurrence, are for Deleuze fundamentally different in kind: Generality has order(s) and belongs to the law. Qualitatively, it pertains to resemblances (cycles, Os) and, quantitatively, it deals in equivalences (equalities, =s). At the level of the general, one term can be exchanged or substituted for another; particulars (small parts of a thing) do not matter. Repetition, on the other hand, is a conduct, a performance or way of looking at things. It deals in actions that cannot be replaced – non-exchangeable, non-substitutable singularities.
Deleuze gives a bizarre list of examples for this unfamiliar characterization of repetition: reflections, echos, doubles, souls. Later he speaks of twins, festivals, lyrical poetry and other works of art, irony and humour. Love is another prime but tacit example of repetition. This list lumps together a casual glance in the mirror with national celebrations and the soul. Unperturbed by the bizarreness of his new and unfamiliar categorization of repetition, Deleuze ploughs on: “If exchange is the criterion of generality, theft and gift are those of repetition.” (1), “The head is the organ of exchange but the heart is the amorous organ of repetition.” (2). We are left wondering what makes these distinctions useful or important to him?
To repeat is to behave in a certain manner, in relation to something that has no equal. Festivals are paradoxical in this way because they repeat an unrepeatable event, bizarrely projecting the power of an event into the future. There is an undeniable futurity to the repetition of Bastille Day, whose celebration is a ripple or an echo of an earlier force or event. Powerful works of art also possess this rippling effect. Deleuze argues that the repetition of a work of art is a singularity without concept. Does he mean that art making is an act of invention that takes place before thought?
Generality belongs to this world of laws (including habit, morality, natural law, societial law, mathematical laws), which determines only the resemblance of the subjects ruled by it. As a result, the law compels its subjects to change, by carving out the territories in which they are allowed to exist. Deleuze describes how arbitrary laws become sedimented and within this rigidity the subject experiences its own powerlessness to repeat. “If repetition is possible, it is due to miracle rather than to law.” (3). Repetition is actually against the law. Repetition is transgression, putting the law into question, forcing a more artistic reality. As you zoom out in time, the law warps and becomes unrecognizable, only to be recovered by a larger law. For example, if the law says that we can only couple in certain ways, it creates an inside and outside. Digging into a Foucauldian genealogy or a Baradian intra-action, the law generates of the subject by measuring it in a certain way. Laws seem to have value in staking out a territory, making something functional out of chaos, but their rigidity creates problems. They aren’t fluid enough and they aren’t real. The law uses generality to rule, to carve out territory and homogenize it. Law generates equivalence – for example, data that tells us that all children with ADHD respond well to a certain drug. Therefore, all children with ADHD will receive this drug. (better example). Thinking children as generalities does violence.
What does it mean to be powerless to repeat? Deleuze seems to mean that one lacks the power to think or make the new. Why does he use repetition to describe this power?
Deleuze then examines with the concept of experimental repeatability, which is fundamental to Enlightenment scientific ideals. He argues that it is the conditions of experimentation, which require relatively closed environments with a small number of chose factors, that makes mathematics useful to scientists: “Experimentation is thus a matter of substituting one order of generality for another: an order of equality for an order of resemblance.” Interestingly, repetition is invoked in the passage from the order of resemblance to the order of equivalences.
Generality represents a hypothetical repetition but this does not account for repetition. Expecting repetition from the laws of nature is a Stoic error. Somehow he dives into a moral realm. Moralists claim that every time we try to repeat according to nature (pleasure, the past) we partake in a demonic and ultimately boring exercise. The good is constructed as the repetition of a law of duty. Kant is involved here. This construction of morality can only be conceived by supposing moral law to external/superior/indifferent to natural law. Something about Bergson and habit. Within habit we find two orders: resemblance and equivalence. Habit is clearly generality, it never gives rise to true repetition. Repetition again only appears between or beneath two modes of generality.
“If repetition is possible, it is as much opposed to moral law as it is to natural law.” There are two ways to take down moral laws. One is by appealing to higher principles, which challenge the law as borrowed or general (ironic). The other way is by descending toward consequences (humor). Repetition appears in this irony and humor, it is by nature transgression or exception, always revealing a singularity opposed to the particulars of law, a universal opposed to the generalities which give rise to laws.
Why use the word repetition to describing the generation of the new/the singular? and universal/disntictive/instant/eternal – This is a very demanding idea of repetition.
Why is the word repetition being used? Things that are not like anything else – love as a singularity that repeats, war, violence, trauma, laughter.
Repetition hides in generality – helps it hides its pasage
At first it is difficult how repetition could be singularity but not particular. In this case, Deleuze understand particulars as having to do with small differences in parts of a whole. Singularities, on the other hand, are wholistically different
Exponents intensify, inducing more than counting.
The leap from one order of generality to other – something about that leap generates something, a flash of power or inspiration. From quant to qual requires a leap of inspiration – one system to another – translation, accidental, miraculous – not within the laws or generalities because they are just reproducing something themselves.
A fake reach for replication induces a kind of repetition –
Replacing repetition with goobblah – seeing new, upsetting the way they are normally done. Mock by submission – camp, aping normalcy
Irony separate from humor
Aping reality creates the new and takes traction
Drag king or queen becomes its own thing
The next section seems to be even more deeply in a philosophical rabbithole.
For Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Peguy, repetition is a special power of language and thought, a fundamental philosophy of the future. They all invoke hero’s of repetition: (Job, Dionysis…). These philosophers oppose repetition to all forms of generality. They do not understand repetition in a metaphorical sense. They take it literally somehow.
They make repetition something new by itself by making it the supreme object of the will and of freedom. Making repetition a task of freedom. For Nietzsche, by making repetition the object of the will, we free it?
They oppose repetition to the laws of nature. It’s not about cycles and seasons or exchanges and equalities. According to the laws of nature, repetition is impossible. Nietzsche finds a will, an interior which opposes the laws of the surface. The refrain?
They also oppose repetition to moral law, such that it becomes the suspension of ethics, a thought beyond good and evil. “Instead of relating repetition to moral law, it seems to make repetition itself the only form of a law beyond morality.” (9)
They oppose repetition to generalities of habit and particularities of memory. “It is perhaps habit which manages to “draw” something new from a repetition contemplated from without.” (9). Repetition is the thought of the future, opposed to reminiscence and habitus.
Chapter 3: The image of thought
The problem of presuppositions in philosophy – First postulate: the principle of the Cogitatio natura universalis – Second postulate: the ideal of common sense – Thought and doxa – Third postulate: the model of recognition – Ambiguity of the Kantian Critique – Fourth postulate: the element of representation – Differential theory of the faculties – The discordant functioning of the faculties: the violence and limits of each – Ambiguity of Platonism – Thinking: its genesis in thought – Fifth postulate: the ‘negative’ of error – Problem of stupidity – Sixth postulate: the privilege of designation – Sense and proposition – The paradoxes of sense – Sense and problem – Seventh postulate: the modality of solutions – The illusion of solutions in the doctrine of truth – Ontological and epistemological importance of the category of problems – Eighth postulate: the result of knowledge – What does it mean ‘to learn’? – Recapitulation of the postulates as obstacles to a philosophy of difference and repetition
Deleuze begins this chapter arguing that philosophy always struggles to truly account for its own beginning. Descartes, Hegel and Heidegger are all duped into imagining that “the self” or “pure being,” from which their philosophies begin, do not rely on presuppositions. But, in reality, these concepts contain implicit assumptions about what is meant by the self, thinking and being. And, in doing so, they do not allow philosophy to truly begin. For Deleuze, who demands that philosophy do and create new things, this form of philosophy can only rehash the things “we” already know (about what is is to be a white western male, for example.) It cannot think the new in more radical ways.
Resting its beginnings upon such implicit presuppositions, philosophy claims innocence, even moral high ground, over the grumpy pedant who resists and raises alarm (See Ahmed, 2012). Smugly suggesting that everybody knows what it means to think, this image of thought enforces an inescapable orthodoxy: It dogmatically binds thought to the possession and pursuit of “the true.” Through such an underhanded marriage, philosophy pushes its most difficult and creative questions into pre-philosophical realms (where the likes of cognitive scientists are allowed to define and delimit thinking).
Through the wretched dogma of universal common sense (Cogitatio natura universalis), Deleuze introduces his resistance to representation and the discourse of the representative. He calls for a more obstinate philosopher who “neither allows himself [sic] to be represented nor wishes to represent anything” (173). As Lapoujade suggests, Deleuze sees no point in developing a philosophy of the ordinary or the regular (2017). Unlike Husserl, Bergson or Heidegger, he resists building his thinking on examples from everyday life. Instead, Deleuze demands that we struggle to formulate thought without image, developing logics of the aberrant and excessive. When thought is frozen and fragmented by normative presuppositions, there is no thinking. We can only begin to think after liberation from this cycle.
Deleuze suggests that Kant was on to some promising things but, regrettably, he refuses to let go of the idea that thought is naturally upright. He refuses to give up on common sense. Instead of letting go of these presuppositions, Kant is forced to account for them by making more common sense or making common sense more complex. Deleuze accuses phenomenology of doing the same. These philosophies do not truly question knowledge, they only declare it legitimate or not. The faculties can fail or have illegitimacy but the things above them cannot. Thought fails only when the faculties criss-cross and encroach on one another, confuses its interest.