From a Philosophically Clean-Shaven Marx to a Philosophically Decolonized Deleuze

The Red Detachment of Women 4

A desperately rough sketch of the third chapter of my dissertation

If the face is in fact Christ, in other words, your average ordinary White Man, then the first deviances, the first divergence-types, are racial: yellow man, black man, men in the second or third category…They must be Christianized, in other words, facialized. European racism as the white man’s claim…operates by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face, which endeavors to integrate nonconforming traits into increasingly eccentric and backward waves, sometimes tolerating them at given places under given conditions, in a given ghetto, sometimes erasing them from the wall, which never abides alterity (it’s a Jew, it’s an Arab, it’s a Negro, it’s a lunatic…). From the viewpoint of racism, there is no exterior, there are no people on the outside. There are only people who should be like us and whose crime it is not to be. – Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 178

In his 1968 Preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze offers the following description of the labor specific to philosophy, a labour that is said to be a “reproduction” of its own history:

It seems to us that the history of philosophy should play a role roughly analogous to that of collage in painting. The history of philosophy is the reproduction of philosophy itself. In the history of philosophy, a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear the maximal modification appropriate to a double. (One images a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa). (Difference & Repetition, xxi)

If philosophy was supposed to be closer to collage and Duchamp than some faithful yet mechanical retelling of its history–a way of doing philosophy that produces novel contributions in thought but in the guise of slight modification–what does it mean to engage, philosophically, with the political project inaugurated by Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism & Schizophrenia? The thesis we will put forward is the following: if it was imperative that we understand Marx’s relationship to the history of philosophy as an icon stripped of it’s most distinguishing features, it is just as imperative for us to imagine a darker Deleuze. This would be a Deleuze who reacquaints himself the fire of negativity not by way of reviving negativity-as-contradiction but by weaponizing difference understood as asymmetrical and combative. If philosophy is closer to surrealistic portraiture than faithful reproduction, and just as Deleuze imagined a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, we are obliged to imagine a philosophically decolonized Deleuze in light of the the present conjuncture of capital accumulation. This chapter aims at demonstrating what is meant by a ‘philosophically decolonized’ Deleuzianism as well as providing the determinate content that gives a decolonial Deleuze its historical, material, and therefore real content.

First, we will proceed by reconsidering particularly significant interpretations of the relationship between philosophy and revolutionary politics as envisioned by Deleuze and Guattari. After which we will then demonstrate how D&G’s privileging of concepts such as the Particular, the minor, and minority, is constitutive of their attempt to think through, and against, the processes of racialization ushered in by European colonialism. This will be seen in this chapter’s final section that argues for the logical and political solidarity between D&G’s notion of revolutionary politics and the tradition of decolonial philosophy (e.g., Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon). It is only by making this link between D&G and the decolonial project that we will be in a position to judge the virtues and limitations of D&G joint writings. 

However, as a point of clarification with regards to the first section of this chapter, we use the term ‘revolutionary’ here in order to express Deleuze and Guattari’s commitment to the abolition of any/all structures of organizing society predicated upon the unfreedom, subjugation, alienation, or exploitation of a portion of the global population for the freedoms of the rest. While the literature regarding this topic is ever expanding, we will confine our analysis to two general interpretations of Deleuze and Guattari’s particular fusion of philosophical and political practice. On the one hand, there are those who view philosophy’s relationship to politics as one of providing a theoretical framework that gives clarity and coherence to the virtual potentials that are not actualized within a certain historical milieu and state of affairs. This position is best articulated by Eugene Holland who offers the following formulation:

Philosophy…turns away from the actuality in order to give consistency to virtuality by extracting from actual states of affairs the selected determinations constitutive of and mapped by its concepts. Philosophy’s concepts do not refer to the actual states of affairs…but rather give consistency to the virtuality from which those states of affairs arose or were actualized. Philosophy thus counter-actualizes actuality and re-potentiates virtuality, restoring the latter’s motility and, perhaps most importantly, its potential to be actualized differently…Where science captures or traces reality itself…philosophy maps the virtual, or rather maps diverse sections of virtuality on its various planes of immanence. (Holland, ‘The Utopian Dimension of Thought in Deleuze and Guattari’, 23)

On the other hand, there are those who read Deleuze and Guattari’s revolutionary aspirations by placing emphasis on their concepts of the minor/minoritarian subject, becoming-indiscernible, lines of flight, deterritorialization, and nomadic war machines. Scholars who maintain this position include Nicholas Thoburn, Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Andrew Culp, and Eduoard Glissant. In contrast to Holland’s reading, Thoburn, Sibertin-Blanc, Culp, and Glissant view the relationship between philosophy and politics as not simply the task of counter-actualizing potentials within the present that remain unactualized.

Now, while Holland’s reading remains true regarding the letter of Deleuze’s thought, through our exegesis of Thoburn and Glissant we are given the additional, if not more important insight, that, for Deleuze and Guattari, this task of counter-actualizing the virtual must be put in the service of a particular kind of subjectivity, or particular kind of identity constituted by late capitalism. To restrict oneself to the activity of counter-actualization that gives theoretical consistency to the virtual, is to ignore the other-half of the function Deleuze assigns to Thinking as such. For as we saw in the previous chapter, Thinking not only adheres to the tripartite criteria of the determination of the Idea; thinking synthetically produces Ideas whose purpose is the identification of certain objective tendencies of a Problem/problematic field, and whose content is that of an actual process that carries within it latent virtual potentials for transforming the Problem/problematic field in toto. It was this dual feature of constructing a consistent virtual Idea with an emphasis on its singular points (lines of flight) that Deleuze meant by asserting the two-faces of every Idea:

It is as though every Idea has two faces, which are like love and anger: love in the search for fragments, the progressive determination and linking of the ideal adjoint fields; anger in the condensation of singularities which, by dint of ideal events, defines the concentration of a ‘revolutionary situation’ and causes the Idea to explode into the actual. It is in this sense that Lenin had Ideas. (DR, 190)

In order to avoid a one-sided understanding of Deleuze and Guattari’s political project (as embodied in Holland’s position), Nicholas Thoburn’s work is useful insofar as it emphasizes the role the minor/minoritarian while Eduoard Glissant himself does this by emphasizing the importance of thinking emancipation from within his own context of the Caribbean. From this brief comparison, we already see how it is that the salient difference separating Holland from thinkers like Thoburn and Glissant is best summarized by Holland himself when he writes

In line with Deleuze & Guattari, his hopes clearly lie in the prospects for more equitable and mutually beneficial forms of market exchange. Unlike Deleuze & Guattari, however, Glissant projects a strong sense of writing from and about a particular place in the world, rather than about the world as a whole. For he speaks and thinks both from and of an archipelago: a region with no single standard or measure of identity, but plural sources, influences, relations; a region without a single People or State, but with multiple ties, parallel histories, shared interests; a region where subterranean or rather sub-oceanic links count for more than politically enclosed territorial boundaries. (‘The Utopian Dimension of Thought’, 6)

According to Holland, then, what distinguishes Glissant from Deleuze and Guattari is the formers localized and situated political project. To be clear, it is possible for one to find support for this criticism of Glissant’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari, and particularly with respect to the filmed interview between Claire Parnet and Deleuze at the end of his life. When the discussion turns to the topic of Deleuze’s relationship to the Left, leftist politics, and unlike many of his contemporaries, his non-participation in the French Communist Party, Deleuze begins to define what it means to be ‘from the Left’ in a manner that seemingly corroborates Holland’s concern:

To not be from the left means starting with myself, my street, my city, my country, the other countries further and further. We start by us, and as we are privileged, we live in a rich country, we wonder what we can do to sustain in time this situation. We can feel that there are some dangers, that this situation can’t last too long. So we say “Oh but the Chinese are so far away, what can we do so that Europe can sustain itself in time etc. To be from the left is the opposite. It is to perceive, as it is said that Japanese people perceive…They would say: The world, the Continent, Europe, France, etc. etc. the rue Bizerte, me. It is a phenomenon of perception. This way we first perceive the horizon…In fact, to be from the left is to know that the Third World’s issues are closer to us than our neighborhood’s issues. (Deleuze & Parnet, L’Abécédaire, G comme gauche)

However, against Holland’s fidelity to the letter of Deleuze’s work, his criticism of Glissant finds itself absent of any justification in for two main reasons. First, insofar as being part of the Left means affirming the priority of ‘Third World’ issues viz-à-viz issues that arise in rich countries whose citizens find themselves in a privileged position, faulting Glissant for ‘writing from a particular place rather than about the world as a whole’ actually amounts to criticizing Glissant for giving priority to his position of theorizing from within a ‘Third World’ country. Less a form of localism or provincialism in theory, we would say, against Holland, that what appears to be nothing but the limited scope of Glissant’s thought is in fact the very act that Deleuze claims includes one’s activity on the side of ‘the Left’ properly understood.

Second, it should strike readers as odd for Holland to claim that a thinker who attempts to construct a politics founded upon a terrain that lacks ‘standard or measure of a unified identity’; a politics that jettisons the ideal of ‘a single People or State’; is in some meaningful sense opposed to Deleuze and Guattari’s own political proscriptions. We need only remind ourselves that Deleuze and Guattari’s criticism of the concept of ‘the people’ isn’t simply based upon a generalized suspicion of any and all political categories. Rather, it is because, historically ‘a people can only be created in abominable sufferings.’ While it is the case that Deleuze and Guattari conceive of  philosophy as capable of signaling a ‘people to come’, it is always qualified in the following terms: “The race summoned forth by art or philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediable minor race” (WIP, 109). Thus, it is with regard to the question of a single People constituted by the presence or absence of a measure of identity, that these two contrasting readings of Deleuze and Guattari will be delineated.

The Red Detachment of Women 2

In the latter half of this chapter we will argue that just as Deleuze’s early works went to great lengths to critique what he called the Dogmatic Image of Thought, his work with Guattari aims to demonstrate the practical futility of ready-made political ideas such as ‘the people’, or the inherited virtues from the Enlightenment such as European humanism’s alleged ‘universality’. While a critique of humanism and universalism may seem to contradict any commitment to revolutionary politics, we will show how it is precisely because these Enlightenment values were never universally applicable to begin with that Deleuze and Guattari will privilege a minoritarian conception of revolutionary subjectivity; a subject whose political activity begins and remains inseparable from the localized ways they find themselves stratifications, organized, and subjectified by capital and its State.

So… while Holland’s interpretation remains valuable, it is a reading that ignores the minoritarian dimension of Deleuze and Guattari’s political position (Thoburn), as well as implicitly repeats the eurocentric bias of treating ‘particular’ or ‘local’ struggles and groups therein as needing to be subsumed into a more universal political category. What readings such as Holland’s neglects is the fact that it is precisely because history has denied particular groups inclusion into the universal that it is in the interest of these particular identity groups to propose a vision of the Universal that does not seek to establish substantial identity between model and copy, idea and claimant (Glissant). Thus, against the charge that would find us guilty for grounding a theory of revolutionary transformation on an overly localized and regional point of view, we aim to show how it is only by defending/beginning with the particular (or, minor) as instantiated in the individuals who belong to the marginalized sections of the global population that one can overcome the errors and blindspots of Holland’s position as well as understand why our criticism gives rise to a philosophically decolonized Deleuze. And is it not already the case that Deleuze and Guattari, in their discourse regarding the potential of a becoming-minoritarian in politics, begin this process of philosophically decolonizing Thought? And is this decolonial element not already evident to familiar readers? For what else could we understand when, in the midst of their discussion of the minor’s relationship with the capitalist-State, Deleuze and Guattari write,

Nonwhites would receive no adequate expression by becoming a new yellow or black majority, an infinite denumerable set. What is proper to the minority is to assert a power of the non-denumerable, even if that minority is composed of a single member. That is the formula for multiplicities. Minority as a universal figure, or becoming-everybody/everything (devenir tout le monde). Woman: we all have to become that, whether we are male or female. Non-white: we all have to become that, whether we are white, yellow, or black […] However modest the demand, it always constitutes a point that the axiomatic cannot tolerate: when people demand to formulate their problems themselves, and to determine at least the particular conditions under which they can receive a more general solution (hold to the Particular as an innovative form). It is always astounding to see the same story repeated: the modest of the minorities’ initial demands, coupled with the impotence of the axiomatic to resolve the slightest corresponding problem. In short, the struggle around axioms is most important when it manifests, itself opens, the gap between two types of propositions, propositions of flow and propositions of axioms. The power of the minorities is not measured by their capacity to enter and make themselves felt within the majority system…but to bring to bear the force of the non-denumerable set…against the denumerable sets. (ATP, 471)

As we will see, it is only by correcting Holland’s misreadings of Deleuze and Guattari, which he places in the service of a critique of Glissant’s localism/particularism, that we can then understand not only how Deleuze and Guattari’s political work is a faithful returning to Marx avant la lettre. More importantly, we will then be able to understand how their replacement of the category class with that of the minor/minority establishes the conditions that render possible a darker, decolonized, Deleuze; a Deleuze whose theoretical framework is freed from its own eurocentric residues and is able to better explain the ways in which the present conjuncture is defined by an enlarged and decolonial understanding of history: if the faithful Marxist position is to reiterate that the whole of human history is that of class struggle, and if the task Deleuze set for himself was to imagine a clean-shaven Marx and therefore unrecognizable, then our task is that of showing how the categories of the minor/minority serve as the grounds for undertaking a thorough decolonization of the Deleuzo-guattarian project. The outcome being that history is no longer simply defined by class-struggle. Rather, history is equally the history of the various anti-colonial struggles that preceded the establishment of capitalism and its division of the social along class lines. It is this latter view of history that brings Deleuze and Guattari’s minor conception of revolutionary politics into the tradition of Césaire and Fanon.



We Head for The Horizon and Return With Bloodshot Eyes (Brief Comments on the Plane of Immanence)

the great mosque of samarra

The question of the status of the plane of immanence has often been interpreted in a positive light. Namely, it is evident to the reader that ‘reaching the plane of immanence’ is portrayed as a virtue of the philosopher insofar as philosophy, understood as the creation of concepts, necessarily relies upon the plane on which philosophy’s concepts are brought into relation. As if to corroborate this interpretation, Deleuze and Guattari themselves write

“…Spinoza is the Christ of philosophers, and the greatest philosophers are hardly more than apostles who distance themselves from or draw near to this mystery. Spinoza, the infinite becoming-philosopher: he showed, drew up, and thought the “best” plane of immanence–that is, the purest, the one that does not hand itself over to the transcendent or restore any transcendent, the one that inspires the fewest illusions, bad feelings, and erroneous perceptions” (What is Philosophy? 60).

Thus the virtue of a thought adequate to its plane of immanence appears as self-evident, as something axiomatic; the inherent virtue of the plane of immanence seems to function as an analytic truth that is simply reiterated across the work of Deleuze, and his joint works with Guattari.

However, and against this view of the plane of immanence as both epistemic and ethico-political virtue, it is important to remind ourselves that while constructing the plane of immanence is a necessary condition for the creation of concepts (as philosophy’s presupposed non-conceptual, or pre-philosophical, correlate), this task carried out by thought cannot be the site of both epistemic virtue and ethico-political praxis. Why? For the very reason that, for Deleuze and Guattari, the importance of constructing a plane of immanence is not justified in terms of the ethical or political potential opened up by immanence as such. Rather, we must construct a plane of immanence since it is only in relation to the plane of immanence that concepts themselves take on significance and value for the thinker: “All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning and which can themselves only be isolated or understood as their solution emerges” (WP, 16).

The plane of immanence orients Thought in a way that allows the thinker to distinguish between true and false problems and thereby allows the thinker to formulate true as opposed to false problems. Unlike the portrait of Spinoza as the apex of the philosopher par excellence, Deleuze and Guattari’s contention is that while we all must strive toward the plane’s construction in our own thought, the plane of immanence itself appears as something wholly devoid of virtue and is not a model to guide collective praxis but a necessary condition for the creation of concepts. It is for this reason that Deleuze and Guattari do not hesitate to praise Spinoza’s fidelity to immanence while simultaneously laboring against the plane of immanence established by capitalism despite its necessary construction by someone such as Marx. Capital, as our specifically contemporary plane of immanence takes up certain tendencies from previous social forms in order to effect a world wide expansion. It is for this reason that we require a new construction of a place of immanence, since it is Capital that serves as the historical condition and futural horizon that determines the totality of planetary social life:

“A world market extends to the ends of the earth before passing into the galaxy: even the skies become horizontal. This is not a result of the Greek endeavor but a resumption, in another form and with other means, on a scale hitherto unknown, which nonetheless relaunches the combination for which the Greeks took the initiative–democratic imperialism, colonizing democracy. The European can, therefore, regard himself, as the Greek did, as not one psychosocial type among others but Man par excellence, and with much more expansive force and missionary zeal than the Greek” (WP, 97).

If the plane of immanence was simply the fusion of an epistemic requirement and political goal, there would be no way to understand their following assertion: “Concepts and plane are strictly correlative, but nevertheless the two should not be confused. The plane of immanence is neither a concept nor the concept of all concepts” (WP, 35-6). The plane is the nexus of problems that give significance and meaning to the concepts that come to populate it. In other words, and as Deleuze already noted as early as Difference and Repetition, the plane of immanence is the dialectic between Idea-Problems, on the one hand, and their possible solutions as incarnated by concepts, on the other. Once we understand that Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the need to discriminate the plane of immanence from its concepts, that we can no longer satisfy ourselves with the conflation between immanence and concept, problems and their solutions, the task of the philosopher and the task of politics:

“The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of the real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem’. More precisely, the solution is always that which a society deserves or gives rise to as a consequence of the manner in which, given its real relations, it is able to pose the problems set within it and to it by the differential relations it incarnates” (DR, 186).

Thus, against the idea that a philosopher’s innocence or moral virtue is proportionate to the adequacy of their concepts and their construction of a plane of immanence, Deleuze and Guattari write,

“The plane of immanence is not a concept that is or can be thought but rather the image of thought, the image thought gives itself of what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought…The image of thought implies a strict division between fact and right: what pertains to thought as such must be distinguished from contingent features of the brain or historical opinions….The image of thought retains only what thought can claim by right” (WP, 37).

The task, then, is to construct the image of thought adequate to our historical present since it is the plane itself that determines what Thought (and philosophy) can rightfully call it’s own, or properly understand its broader socio-political function in the present. However, if the plane of immanence is the Image of Thought, it is clear that a plane is only constructed in order to be overcome. It is for this reason that while Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the necessity of the plane of immanence, they ultimately assert that it is in light of the concepts philosophy can create (or the percepts and affects of art, or the functions of science) that we can overturn the image of thought itself. As Deleuze already understood, the “… ‘solvability’ [of a Problem] must depend upon an internal characteristic: it must be determined by the conditions of the problem, engendered in and by the problem along with the real solutions” (DR, 162).

Planes of immanence may be necessary, and we can acknowledge someone like Spinoza’s fidelity in his thoroughgoing construction as seen in his Ethics, while also acknowledging that it is only in the solutions within the plane that a philosophical/political praxis can emerge; whereby the emergence of a solution spells the overcoming of the plane/image of thought itself. In this way we should hear Marx in background of Deleuze; as Marx himself already understood “communism is not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself…but the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (German Ideology). Our fidelity to the construction a plane of immanence (taken as epistemic virtue), only gains in political utility insofar as the plane is constructed to its logical conclusion and the concepts created by the thinker within this plane is a solution that abolishes the present state of things…whose conditions (i.e. nexus of problems, plane of immanence established by capital) are already now in existence.

For what else did Deleuze mean when he praised the free reign of simulacra as the crowned anarchy at the end of his overturning of Platonism? The idea that the solutions to a problem; the instantiations of an Idea; neither resemble nor share in the essence of the problem-Idea to which they are indexed? Any position to the contrary and which posits solutions as sharing in the essence and remaining fundamentally identical to an Idea-problem, implicitly or explicitly commits one to a fatalism in the face of capital’s plane of immanence: There is no longer any available alternative solution to the problem posed by capital’s plane of immanence (neoliberalism). There is no longer such a thing as society (Thatcher). We have reached the end of history (Fukuyama), and the cause célèbre is this best of all possible worlds with the correct and justifiable amount of global suffering (Habermas).

Bergsonian Science-Fiction: Deleuze, Eshun, and Thinking the Reality of Time


“To be more precise, science fiction is neither forward-looking nor utopian. Rather, in William Gibson’s phrase, science fiction is a means through which to preprogram the present […] Science fiction operates through the power of falsification, the drive to rewrite reality, and the will to deny plausibility, while the scenario operates through the control and prediction of plausible alternative tomorrows.”

– Kodwo Eshun, ‘Further Considerations on Afrofuturism’

“A book of philosophy should be in part a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction…What this book should therefore have made apparent is the advent of a coherence which is no more our own, that of mankind, than that of God or the world. In this sense, it should have been an apocalyptic book (the third time in the series of times).”

– Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

This short essay aims to draw a single connection, along the theme of time, between Kodwo Eshun, Gilles Deleuze, via their shared Bergsonian premises. To do this, we will begin with Bergson’s account of the correct and misguided ways of understanding the structure and nature of Time in and of itself. Additionally, we’ll see how there is an implicit connection between Deleuze’s remarks in Difference and Repetition regarding the ‘powers of the false,’ simulacra, and the constitution of time as being ‘out of joint’ in Deleuze’s Third Synthesis, with Eshun’s description of Afrofuturism and its relationship to dramatization, the exaggeration of features of the present to contest the present, and so forth.

Thus, we begin with their shared Bergsonian premises regarding the individual, historical, and metaphysical aspects of temporality in order illustrate that the primary illusion, which we must disabuse ourselves of in order to grasp the philosophical and political import of the reality of Time, is the assumption that Kodwo Eshun’s Afrofuturism and Deleuze’s philosophy of Difference remain preoccupied with the future as such; with novelty and the accelerated proliferation of differences for their own sake.

I). Bergson – Geometrical vs. Vital Time

For Bergson the problem that we face in understanding Life, duration, etc., is imposing what he called the ‘geometric’ order onto the ‘vital’ order of Life (cf. Creative Evolution). Bergson maintains that the intelligibility of Life-itself is never grasped, as Aristotle thought, through the assumption that time is the measure of movement in space, and thus asserting that the nature and existence of Time depends on the nature and existence of Space for its own reality. If Time is not ontologically dependent on space; and if time is not reducible to the linear progression of the measure of movement; then this conception of Time-itself requires us to reconceptualize the very lexicon of temporality: the past, present, and future.

In Creative Evolution, Bergson gives his refutation of interpreting Life in terms of finality/final causes. Here, Bergson offers the means for a transvaluation of our temporal lexicon. On the ‘Finalist’ account, the future finds its reality in the past and present, follows a certain order, and is guaranteed due to first principles. Thus, for the finalists, the future remains fixed and dependent upon the linear progression of time.For Bergson (as it is for Deleuze and Eshun, as we will see), the future is precisely that which does not depend on the linear progression of time for its own reality.

From the ‘vitalist’ perspective (contra the finalists), Bergson writes, “we see…that which subsists of the direct movement in the inverted movement, a reality which is making itself in a reality which is unmaking itself…” (CE, 248). Just as the epigraph of Eshun’s notes that Afrofuturism was never concerned with the future as such but with the relation between the alternate futures the present world makes possible; and just as Deleuze notes that the science fiction aspects of a ‘good’ book mirror his reading of Nietzsche’s untimeliness as wresting from the present a future which does not repeat the violence of the past and present; Bergson could be seen here as giving this vital theorization of Time in its most ‘pure’ or theoretical way. The vital, as opposed to geometric, comprehension of the reality and structure of time supplants its linear definition (that renders the future as pre-determined and existentially dependent upon the iron laws of the past) with an understanding of the mutual conditioning of the ‘is not/no longer’ of the past and the ‘immediate past/immediate future’ of the present as the means by which multiple (and virtual) futures are prized from the reality of Time by the nature and structure of Time-as-such. 

II). Deleuze’s Third Synthesis of Time & Eshun’s Afrofuturism

Thus, when Deleuze offers his Third and final Synthesis of Time; the ‘static and ordinal’ synthesis where time exists ‘out of joint’ and thus gives a new order/meaning to how we understand time cosmologically, historically, cultural, and individually; what constitutes Time’s ‘out-of-jointness’ is precisely this revaluation of the past, present, and future understood on the finalist/linear/geometrical conception of time (as measure of movement) where what is understood is that time’s ontological existence; time as it exists independent of human agency; has no concern for the future.

For Deleuze, the temporal development of life taken in its broadest sense does not care about the preservation of species or even the preservation of its own natural processes. Time, as it is constituted by Life itself, must be understood as continuously producing various possible futures that are left up to the contingency of the other evolutionary, biological, chemical, etc., processes of Life itself. We might say that Time understood in this (vitalist) manner means that Life is the continual superabundance of an excess that Life can neither control nor wants to control (here, we should note that it is Deleuze who gets furthest from anthropomorphizing Life, the will to power, etc., and understands life in terms of the impersonal conditions of human existence as such, in contrast to the key thinkers he draws on for this synthesis-namely, Nietzsche and Bergson). It is the vitalist, according to Deleuze, who gives us access to Differences-themselves in their free and untamed state.

Thus, the Third Synthesis of Time as engendering time as out-of-joint and constitutes the ‘dissolved Self’ as one who acts against one’s time, can be seen through Eshun’s idea of science fiction’s activity as one of capitalizing on the ‘powers of falsification, the drive to rewrite reality, and the will to deny plausibility;’ against one’s time and, in the hope of a time to-come. Now, this future ‘to-come’ cannot be understood as utopian (in the pejorative sense) or an appeal to some variation of Messianic-time. Here, Eshun’s clarity is useful:

“it would be naïve to understand science fiction, located within the expanded field of the futures industry, as merely prediction into the far future, or as a utopian project for imagining alternative social realities. Science fiction might better be understood, in Samuel R. Delany’s statement, as offering “a significant distortion of the present.” To be more precise, science fiction is neither forward-looking nor utopian. Rather, in William Gibson’s phrase, science fiction is a means through which to preprogram the present. Looking back at the genre, it becomes apparent that science fiction was never concerned with the future, but rather with engineering feedback between its preferred future and its becoming present” (‘Further Considerations,’ 290).

The future as conceived by Deleuze and Eshun is incommensurable with, and the exact opposite of, either Utopian or Messianic time; these latter two conceptions of a future-to-come locate the determining temporal factor in the future while Deleuze and Eshun, following Bergson, locate the element that determines and actualizes a future as the relationship between the past and the present.

III). Possible Conclusions//Possible Futures

In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari define philosophy as the creation of concepts; an activity that requires the engendering of Thought in a subject, in order for that thinking-subject to fabricate a concept that is adequate to the Idea-Problem of their time. It is this tripartite criteria – Thinking; (posing) Problems; and (creating) Concepts – given by Deleuze (and Guattari) for the genesis and constitution of the praxis of philosophy that was already formulated in Difference and Repetition:

The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of the real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involved stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem’. More precisely, the solution is always that which a society deserves or gives rise to as a consequence of the manner in which, given its real relations, it is able to pose the problems set within it and to it by the differential relations it incarnates” (DR, 186).

What is significant regarding the equation ‘philosophy = concept creation,’ and the subsequent annihilation of any guarantee that the thinking-subject will be rewarded with optimism in their search for truth, is that these three elements that constitute the practice of Philosophy do not operate according to the linear/finalist conception of temporality.

That is, the thinker cannot hope for any optimism insofar as they are thinking precisely because what is given in a thought that adequately poses problems and creates concepts are the multiple solutions, or futures, that are harbored within every problem posed and concept created. Thus, philosophy properly understood according to Deleuze stands against the linear conception of time, where the reality of the future is fixed and furnished by the internal and originary principles of the past. And among his generation (though it perhaps needs no emphasis) it is Deleuze who takes the Bergsonian injunction with the most seriousness and gravity; the assertion that we must do violence to our habituated forms of cognition (Identity, Recognition, Reflection, Analogy) in order to sinew the order of philosophical practice to an actualized overcoming of the all-too-human qualities of our present.  As Bergson writes,

The duty of philosophy should be to intervene here actively, to examine the living without any reservation as to practical utility, by freeing itself from forms and habits that are strictly intellectual. Its own special project is to speculate, that is to say, to see; its attitude toward the living should not be that of science, which aims only at action, and which, being able to act only by means of inert matter, presents itself to the rest of reality in this single respect” (CE, 196).

And it is precisely through this Bergsonian theoretico-practical operation we apprehend a Deleuzean and Eshunian transvaluation of the time proper to the human. For the former, the overcoming of humanity means freeing oneself from the bad habits of cognition that we have been socialized into taking as synonymous with Thinking as such. For the latter, the overcoming of humanity means freeing oneself from the ongoing effects of the determination and construction of a global future that continues to exclude ever growing swaths of humanity; a logic already present the past of human history. To free oneself from what we have been acculturated to identify as philosophy (thought as commensurate with the aims of either the Church, the State, or Capitalist Democracy) and from the repetition of a Future than is the exacerbation of the past; this would be sufficient to throw time out of joint and to construct a ground from which a new ordering of time becomes possible.

Thus, philosophical activity (Deleuze) and Afrofuturism (Eshun) aren’t simply against their own socio-historical situatedness, or concerned with the future for its own sake. As we saw with Bergson in terms of Life, and as we apprehend implicitly in Eshun, we are not concerned with the theorization and determination of time because time (Life, History) has a concern for itself and its future. To the contrary: it is precisely because the past and the present, taken in themselves, have neither a concern for their own future nor the future of human existence that a thought and politics of the future is not one that is infatuated and enamored with the blind and intensifying processes of our present.

The Third Synthesis of Time is the science-fiction moment in Difference and Repetition, the books ‘apocalyptic’ moment when the I and Self are both fractured and dissolved in the reordering of Time; it’s what Eshun talks about when he says that sci-fi was never really about the future in the first place. To merely be ‘about the future’… such an interpretation is only possible if we take the reality of time to be founded upon the reality of space; a perspectival-position that revokes any philosophical and/or political potential for the existence of multiple futures within a single future-time from the current present of terrestrial life defined by its terrestrially instantiated death-drive.

Ideas Are Problems Themselves and Not the Criteria For Their Possible Solution: Deleuze, Plato, Dialectic

Cy Twombly - Polaroid

“With Plato…The Idea is not yet the concept of an object which submits the world to the requirements of representation, but rather a brute presence which can be invoked in the world only in function of that which is not ‘representable’ in things. The Idea has therefore not yet chosen to relate difference to the identity of a concept in general: it has not given up hope of finding a pure concept of difference in itself” (DR, 59).

/0/. On Myth & Mediation

Deleuze’s reading of Plato in Difference and Repetition hinges on his interpretation of the relationship between Ideas and its participants as developed in the Statesmen and the Sophist. In each text Deleuze finds Plato posing a specific problem – who is the true shepherd of men? who is the true philosopher and who is the sophist? – where this problem and its formulation as a question becomes the grounds by which Plato can determine better and worse claimants; authentic and inauthentic philosophers and statesmen. Now, it may strike one as an odd opening onto Deleuze’s relationship to dialectics – mainly those who see Deleuze as the arch anti-Platonist and someone who seeks to undertake Nietzsche’s project of ‘overturning Platonism.’ However, it is clear that Deleuze discovers the impetus to think difference-itself already at work in Plato’s dialogues. Additionally, Deleuze recognizes Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s reliance on myth in these texts. For Aristotle, the fact that Plato invokes myth signals that Plato lacks a mediating term; that is, the Platonic relationship between Ideas and things does not yet have a term which can establish a relationship of equivalence and identity between the one who claims to be a philosopher and the Idea of the philosopher as such. And while it is important to note that Deleuze does not jettison Aristotle’s critique of Plato, he does take issue with Aristotle’s criticism, since for Deleuze, the moment where Plato realizes the necessity of a mediating term does not come at the moment of the establishment of myth. Rather, Plato realizes the necessity for this term of equivalence in relationship to the problem of distinguishing the philosopher from the sophist. In other words, the role that myth plays in these dialogues should not be seen as Plato’s nascent attempt at establishing a truly mediating function between Ideas and things. Rather, on Deleuze’s reading, myth functions as a test established by Plato to understand the continuum of all those individuals, who differ-in-kind, and who would lay claim to the title of Statesman or Philosopher.

/1/. Proceeding By Way of Problems

In beginning this immanent critique/overturning of Platonism by undertaking what was true in Plato’s definition of dialectics and responding to the Aristotelian worry regarding the role of myth on Plato’s dialogues Deleuze writes: “…myth establishes the model of a partial circulation in which appears a suitable ground on which to base the difference, on which to measure the roles or claims […] The function of the ground is then to allow participation, to give in second place. Thus, that which participates more or less in varying degrees is necessarily a claimant” (DR, 61-2). Thus, Deleuze praises Plato insofar as he understood dialectic as proceeding by problems and insofar as we understand that the role of myth in these dialogues serves as the grounds by which different claimants can participate, to a greater or lesser extent, in the Ideas themselves. However, says Deleuze, Plato has not gone far enough:

“The whole of Platonism…is dominated by the idea of drawing a distinction between ‘the thing itself’ and the simulacra. Difference is not thought in itself but related to a ground, subordinated to the same and subject to mediation in mythic form. Overturning Platonism, then, means denying the primacy of original over copy, of model over image; glorifying the reign of simulacra and reflections” (DR, 66).

Thus we can understand Deleuze’s criticism of Plato, and how it has resonances with the Aristotelian worry mentioned earlier: namely, it is because Plato is concerned with distinguishing between the true and false copy, the better and worse claimant vís-a-vís Ideas themselves, Plato’s dialectic culminates in the logic of subsuming difference-itself under the Same; under the concept of the good copy as opposed to the bad; the authentic claimant as opposed to the inauthentic participant. This forces Deleuze, then, to address the following question: what are the implications for Thought (and thinking difference-itself) given this image of overturning Platonism, which requires the valorization of the free play of simulacra over and against the model-copy logic proposed by Plato? The answer comes much earlier in the same chapter when Deleuze asks if

‘it is enough to multiply representations in order to obtain such effects? Infinite representation includes precisely and infinity of representation…The fact is that the infinite representation is indissociable from a  law which renders it possible: the form of the concept as a form of identity which constitutes on the one hand the in-itself of the represented (A is A) and on the other hand the for-itself of the representant (Self=Self)…The immediate, defined as ‘sub-representative’, is therefore not attained by multiplying representations and points of view…Each point of view must itself be the object, or the object must belong to the point of view. The object must therefore be in no way identical, but torn asunder in a difference in which the identity of the object as seen by a seeing subject vanishes” (DR, 56).

Or as Deleuze mentions later in the chapter: 

“It is not enough to multiply perspectives in order to establish perspectivism. To every perspective or point of view there must correspond an autonomous work with its own self-sufficient sense: what matters is the divergence of series, the decentering of circles, ‘monstrosity’…The simulacrum is the instance which includes a difference within itself” (DR, 69).

In what way, then, is this a response to the claim of glorifying the free play of simulacra? By understanding that what was established as the ground in these Platonic dialogues (myth) provides us with a continuum of differences-in-kind before any differences-in-degree. In other words, what Plato discovered and quickly covered up by separating the ‘thing itself’ from any simulacra was precisely the qualitative differences that occur in the every claim made to the Idea of what it means to be a Philosopher, for instance, as opposed to a Sophist. That is, prior to the criteria of distinguishing the Philosopher from the Sophist comes the qualitative differences that are made apparent by their claims to the same Idea. In this way we can understand not only how difference precedes identity/sameness, but how the Ideas themselves (taken as the problem-question ground) unite qualitative differences in such a way that does not require any mediating concept or category of equivalence. The philosopher and sophist, as claimant to the same Idea and prior to their evaluation, equally participate in the same Idea taken in itself. Thus, it is the very claimants of an Idea that differ from both their rivals and any purported ‘essence’ of the Idea in which they instantiate. Or, in Deleuze’s own formulation: “Plato gave the establishment of difference as the supreme goal of dialectic. However, difference does not lie between thing and simulacra, models and copies. Things are simulacra themselves” (DR, 67, my emphasis). If Difference is already given in the simulacra themselves it is only because, prior to any attempt to render commensurate claimant and Idea, every claimant is qualitatively different from every other claimant in the continuum opened up by myth as the grounds for division and selection. This is the meaning behind the self-sufficiency of every point of view, or claim, made in relation to an Idea.

/2/. Univocity Thesis

This valorization of simulacra over the model-copy relationship must be understood in conjunction with Deleuze’s proposition that Being is univocal, since as Deleuze himself writes “Being (what Plato calls the Idea) ‘corresponds’ to the essence of the problem or question as such” (DR, 64). Why is there a correlation between Ideas and the univocity of Being for Deleuze? Because what we see happen in this overturning of Platonism is the same logical relationship with this principle of univocity: namely, if Being is said in a single and same sense, then, Being gives no privilege to beings themselves. The univocity of Being and the valorization of the simulacra assert that every mode of substance, being of Being, or claimant of an Idea, exists in an equal relationship to Ideas (Being) only on the basis of each individual’s fundamental difference from all others. Being does not grant privileges to beings just as the main consequence of this overturning of Platonism is the assertion that Ideas themselves only provide the grounds for participation without privileging one participant among others. The distinction between true and false copies attributes something to the Ideas themselves (to Being-itself) that is not already contained within them. As we cited earlier regarding Deleuze’s reading of Plato, “The Idea has therefore not yet chosen to relate difference to the identity of a concept in general” (DR, 59). Deleuze gives another formulation later in the text that gives the sense of the overturning of Platonism in its most direct manner: “Does this not mean, however, that if simulacra themselves refer to a mode, it is one which is not endowed with the ideal identity of the Same but, on the contrary, is a model of the Other, an other model, the model of difference in itself from which claws that interiorised dissimilitude? Among the most extraordinary pages in Plato, demonstrating the anti-Platonism at the heart of Platonism, are those which suggest that the difference, the dissimilar, the unequal – in short, becoming – may well be not merely defects which affect copies like a ransom paid for their secondary charactery or a counterpart of their resemblance, but rather models themselves, terrifying models of the pseudos in which unfolds the powers of the false” (DR, 128). Thus it is shown to be Plato himself who lays the grounds for the overturning of Platonism, which concludes that the Ideas do not act to guarantee the identity or sameness between Ideas and participants; rather, Ideas themselves give rise to their own simulacra; to those who differ-in-kind from the Ideas themselves.

However, this raises a new problem for Deleuze: if we agree that difference precedes identity in this way, what allows us to differentiate the philosopher from the sophist, since it appears that we have sacrificed any possible criteria by which we can offer an answer to the question posed by the Idea of who is the true philosopher? In other words, what is the fate of philosophy in light of what appears to be the absence of any grounds for adjudicating, distinguishing, and dividing between claimants to an Idea? This question allows us to understand another aspect of Deleuze’s task: namely, a wholesale reorientation of Thought in relationship to Being. The task assigned to philosophy, to thinking and to concept creation, is not the appraisal of claimants to an Idea (this is the moral character of thinking that Deleuze finds at the heart of Plato’s distinction between copy and simulacra). Rather, the task of philosophy is the understanding and articulation of Ideas themselves. If it is already a well known trope of Deleuzean rhetoric that we must proclaim the innocence of Being through the affirmation of “a difference of difference as its immediate element” (DR, 69), it is precisely because what is affirmed in Thought, when thinking is confronted with its proper object of cognition, is nothing other than the problem-questions opened up by Ideas themselves. The task of thought is not to propose, or determine, the solution to a problem. Rather, “if according to Kant, reason does pose false problems and therefore itself gives rise to illusion, this is because in the first place it is the faculty of posing problems in general. In its natural state such a faculty lacks the means to distinguish what is true or false, what is founded or not, in any problem it poses…Ideas have a perfectly legitimate ‘regulative’ function in which they constitute true problems or pose well-founded problems. That is why ‘regulative’ means ‘problematic’. Ideas are themselves problematic or problematising – and Kant tries to show the difference between, on the one hand, and, on the other, ‘hypothetical’, ‘fictitious’, ‘general’, or ‘abstract’” (DR, 168)

/3/. The Fate of Philosophy

On Deleuze’s account the fate of philosophy, seen in light of the claim that there is a difference-in-kind between Ideas and things, is that thought must not comfort itself with thinking the relationship between the empirical and the transcendental, or the copy and its model in a given Idea. Rather, thought must aspire to grasp the conditions for the Ideas themselves and understand that Ideas, or Problem-questions, are the true objects of thought. It is in this manner that Platonic Ideas are understood as ‘problem-questions’; that Ideas and Thinking are understood as the grounds that give rise to modes that differ from them in kind, while still maintaining a necessary relation to that which they differ from. One formulation of this claim would follow the Principle of Identity understood as an Identity of Inclusion instead of Reciprocity. The relation A=A, understood as Inclusion, would not mean that both instances of A share the same essence. Rather, A=A would mean that the first iteration of A and its second are essentially different but despite this essential difference, we cannot conceive of one without the other. Thus, Identity-as-inclusion allows us to understand the relationship between differences while preserving their differences and establishing a continuous, serial, relationship between the two. It is in this way that Deleuze can assert on the one hand that Plato “has not given up hope of finding a pure concept of difference in itself” (DR, 59), while on the other hand claiming that Identity understood as mediating equivalence covers over the more profound Identity of Inclusion; Inclusion that preserves the qualitative differences between terms while acknowledging that we cannot adequately conceive of one term in its singularity without other singular terms to which it is related by necessity. Thought must aspire to Ideas understood as regulative and problematic; where what is implied in the claim that Ideas are the true objects of Thinking is the assertion that to think Ideas is to think the differential relations laid out by Ideas themselves (or the problematic-conditions that give rise to the products/solutions of these conditions) without recourse to any empirical content that seeks to confirm the essential identity between Ideas and its claimants. Additionally, what is implied throughout Deleuze’s interpretation of the legacy of Plato’s dialectic is the need to rehabilitate the Kantian distinction between thinking and knowing. While the latter functions as the knowing-subject’s understanding of the manifold of sensibility through conceptual determination, the former operates in relation to an object whose synthetic content is foreclosed to the understanding but whose existence can be legitimately theorizable.

Thus, the fate of philosophy understood as thinking the differential relations that are given by Ideas themselves sets the stage for what Deleuze will later term ‘transcendental empiricism.’ Thinking cannot be confused, or treated as reducible to, the activity of ‘tracing the transcendental from the empirical’ since this ‘tracing’ still requires the verification of what we apprehend through the understanding by means of what is phenomenally given. Rather, Thinking is transcendental precisely because its objects are the specific conditions that serve as the basis for further exploring the relation between the transcendental and empirical; and thinking is empirical since the Ideas themselves afford the possible existence of every particular claimant that would find a stake in the question of who is the true shepherd of men? And who is the true philosopher? It is only through a transcendental empiricism that we can understand how Difference precedes Identity; how the Ideas themselves cannot serve as the criteria for establishing true and false claimants; the good copy from the bad simulacra.

‘Ethical Difference’: Spinoza and Deleuze (Part II)


I. The Function Of Parallelism In Spinoza’s Ethical Theory

However, there is perhaps still another proposition in Spinoza’s Ethics, which would present a possible contradiction with our prior argument regarding the metaphysical status of IIP7. In IIIP2 Spinoza writes that: “The body cannot determine the mind to thinking, and the mind cannot determine the body to motion, to rest, or to anything else (if there is anything else).” Thus, even if we have successfully refuted a mind-body dualism regarding IIP7, it would seem that Spinoza’s claim in IIIP2 adds a further implication to his arguments in IIP7. Not only is the order and connection between ideas and things one and the same; now, the order of ideas (thought) and the order of things (extension) appears to lack causal relations between each other when they modally exist in the form of human beings. By turning our attention to Spinoza’s reference to IIP7 and his justification in the scholium in IIIP2 we can begin to understand how, even at this moment in Spinoza’s larger argument, the parallelism thesis still does not argue for the absence of any interaction between the mind and the body, and its relevance for a Spinozist ethical theory.

Spinoza writes that his argument regarding IIIP2 is “more clearly understood from what is said in IIP7S, namely, that the mind and the body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension.” If Spinoza’s demonstration for IIIP2 now concerns human existence in relation to IIP7, what is the logical function of this appeal to God as justification? And how does this relate to the seeming parallelism between the mind and the body? The parallel relation arises, as we have seen, due to the causal relations between the attributes of thought and extension. For Spinoza, thought does not bring about the attribute of extension and extension does not bring about the attribute of thought (parallelism), rather it is God who is the cause of both thought and extension, which are understood to be expressions of God’s essence.

However, even considering the relationship between God and the attributes, Spinoza makes it clear that the attributes of thought and extension are simply two ways of understanding substance itself: “thinking substance and extended substance are one and the same substance, which is now comprehended under this attribute, now under that.” If there is a separation in the causal order of the attributes of thought and extension at the metaphysical level, it is because thought and extension do not determine each other; thought cannot bring about the essence of extension and extension cannot bring about the essence of thought. It is only God as initial cause which expresses his essence and brings into existence the attributes of thought and extension. This would, then, be the reason for Spinoza proceeding in his demonstration of IIIP2 in the following manner: “All modes of thinking have God for a cause, insofar as he is a thinking thing, and not insofar as he is explained by another attribute (by IIP6). So what determines the mind to thinking is a mode of thinking and not of extension, that is (by IID1), it is not the body.” Given these remarks regarding the metaphysical implications of the demonstration of IIIP2, we can now turn our attention toward the epistemological and ethical consequences of Spinoza’s justification.

If the attributes of thought and extension with their corresponding mode of mind and body, respectively, are one and the same substance only considered in two different manners, two main consequences follow from this: i) the mind and the body are united in the same individual, which can be explained in two ways and ii) the distinction between thought and extension, between mind and body is not a metaphysical difference since they express one and the same substance, but an ethical distinction.

Regarding the first point the emphasis must be placed on explanation, since this is the content of Spinoza’s demonstration of IIIP2 and serves as his epistemological argument in relation to parallelism. As we have just seen, when God is understood to be the cause of the modes of thinking and extension, it is to be understood in terms of how God is explained and how we can infer from the existence of a finite mode, the infinite being of God itself: “All modes of thinking have God for a cause, insofar as he is a thinking thing, and not insofar as he is explained by another attribute (by IIP6).” This would constitute the way in which parallelism is at once an argument about the identity in the power of existing if we consider any attribute in relation to others, while also arguing for the mode by which we can come to understand ourselves, in relationship to others, and to substance.

Regarding the second consequence drawn from IIIP2, and while there is no metaphysical difference between thought and extension given their unity in substance and their equal expression of God’s infinite essence, there is an important distinction between the mind and the body insofar as Spinoza’s aim is to  refute false ideas concerning human freedom, and provide a systematic understanding of how human beings can moderate and restrain their affects, or how we can overcome our own bondage. We can see the importance of this ethical distinction by considering first our experience of the world, and then by the affects which determine our actions as they relate to human beings. In the scholium of IVP1, which states that “Nothing positive which a false idea has is removed by the presence of the true insofar as it is true,” Spinoza provides us with an example of how the knowledge of the relationship between our body and the sun is at once affected by the immediate sensual experience of the sun, and the way in which this experience is tempered, and therefore conceived properly, in terms of true ideas. As Spinoza writes,

“For example, when we look at the sun, we imagine it to be about two hundred feet away from us. In this we are deceived so long as we are ignorant of its true distance; but when its distance is known, the error is removed, not the imagination, that is, the idea of the sun, which explains its nature only so far as the body is affected by it. And so, although we come to know the true distance, we shall nevertheless imagine it as near us.”


With the example of our body’s relationship to the sun, we can see that what is altered in this experience is not the presence of the sun itself (which is not removed once we have a true idea). Rather, what is altered is our understanding of that which remains present to us. Therefore, our true ideas regarding the sun afford us the capacity to act in such a way that is in accordance with this idea. With true ideas we say that while the sun remains present and seems as if it is two hundred feet away, we also know that the sun is much further away regardless of the way in which it affects our body. By this example, then, Spinoza provides a first glimpse into how it is that true ideas, and the second kind of knowledge, allows us to temper and restrain the affects which determine our actions.

In the case of relations between human beings and inadequate and adequate ideas, Spinoza writes that, “Man’s lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects I call bondage. For the man who is subject to affects is under the control, not of himself, but of fortune, in whose power he so greatly is that often, though he sees the better for himself, he is still forced to follow the worse.”

Therefore, if Spinoza seeks to provide his readers with a framework by which one can restrain their affects, it is necessary for him to develop a way to distinguish the affects of the mind from the affects of the body; the failure of which, becomes the image of the saddened individual in Parts III and IV, who only has confused and mutilated ideas about themselves and Nature.

By taking human bondage as the problem he set out to solve, we can see Spinoza’s extension of the arguments in IIP7 and IIIP2 and their ethical importance in the demonstration of IVP7:

“An affect, insofar as it is related to the mind, is an idea by which the mind affirms of its body a greater or lesser force of existing than before (by the general Definition of the Affects [II/203/29-22]). When, therefore, the mind is troubled by some affect, the body is at the same time affected with an affection by which its power of acting is increased or diminished. Next, this affection of the body (by P5) receives from its cause its force for persevering in its being, which, therefore, can neither be restrained nor removed, except by a corporeal cause (by IIP6) which affects the body with an affection opposite to it (IIIP5), and stronger than it (by A1).”


Thus, if it is important to understand what affects are limiting and restraining our persevering in our striving and in what way, the distinction between the mind and the body becomes Spinoza’s own method of diagnosing what is truly good and truly evil for human existence. The failure to make this distinction is seen in the scholium of IIIP2:

“…human affairs, of course, would be conducted far more happily if it were equally in man’s power to be silent and to speak. But experience teaches all too plainly that men have nothing less in their power than their tongue, and can do nothing less than moderate their appetites. That is why most men believe that we do freely only those things we have a weak inclination toward…but that we do not at all do freely those things we seek by a strong affect, which cannot be calmed by the memory of another thing.”


Or again, as Spinoza returns to this very problem later in Part III when he writes:

“A thing we imagine to be free must be perceived through itself, without others (by ID7). So if we imagine it to be the cause of joy or sadness, we shall thereby love or hate it (by P13S), and shall do so with the greatest love or hate that can arise from the given affect (by P48). But if we should imagine as necessary the thing which is the cause of this affect, then (by the same ID7) we shall imagine it to be the cause of the affect, not alone, but with others. And so (by P48) our love or hate toward it will be less, q.e.d.”

Thus, we fail to temper and restrain our affects insofar as we believe our affections to be free; that is, insofar as we perceive our affects through themselves alone, which Spinoza has already shown to be proper to the first kind of knowledge. Additionally, the importance of the ethical distinction for moderating the affects is equally due to the fact that one must understand whether their affects relate primarily to the powers of the mind (understanding and reason) or the powers of the body (reasons of speed and slowness). The reason being that, in the same way that we do not have a free determination of the movement and rest of our own body, we do not have a free decision in terms of the mind: “we can do nothing from a decision of the mind unless we recollect it. For example, we cannot speak a word unless we recollect it. And it is not in the free power of the mind to either recollect a thing or forget it.” This is to say, regarding the powers of the mind and its striving toward understanding, it can be hindered by an affect whether past or present. As Spinoza reiterates in IVP6, “The force of any passion, or affect, can surpass the other actions, or power, of a man, so that the affect stubbornly clings to the man.” Thus, in order to moderate our affects, it is insufficient to simply understand the relationship between our persevering in relation to other bodies. It is equally necessary to understand those affects which restrain and diminish our power of understanding.

When Spinoza writes that it is “Because men believe themselves free, these affects are very violent,” it is for the reason of men having confused and inadequate ideas, and failing to understand the ethical (and not metaphysical) distinction between the mind and the body that affects are made violent. Moreover, the epistemological implications for the example of the individual who fails to make this ethical distinction is the individual who exists at the level of the first kind of knowledge, since they base their actions and thoughts on confused and inadequate ideas. It is from the first kind of knowledge that men believe themselves free since they are merely conscious of their actions precisely because this belief rests on a knowledge of effects alone, divorced from their causes.

Additionally, our actions which arise from this first kind of knowledge are not vicious because they refer primarily to our selves more than to others, since the nature of ideas is such that, “the ideas which we have of external bodies indicate the condition of our own body more than the nature of the external bodies.” Rather, the problem Spinoza sees in the relationship between the first kind of knowledge and acting from certain affects is meant to underscore the fact that we would attempt to seek out what is most useful for ourselves solely on the basis of a distorted and confused understanding of what it would mean to ‘seek one’s own advantage’ in the first place. As Spinoza writes,

“This sadness, accompanied by the idea of our own weakness is called humility. But joy from considering ourselves, is called self-love or self-esteem. And since this is renewed as often as a man considers his virtues, or his power of acting, it also happens that everyone is anxious to tell his own deeds, and show off his powers, both of body and of mind and that men, for this reason, are troublesome to one another. From this it follows, again, that men are by nature envious (see P24S and P32S), or are glad of their equals’ weakness and saddened by their equals’ virtue […] But if he relates what he affirms of himself to the universal idea of man or animal, he will not be so greatly gladdened. And on the other hand, if he imagines that his own actions are weaker, compared to others’ actions, he will be saddened (by P28), and will strive to put aside this sadness, either by wrongly interpreting his equals’ actions or by magnifying his own as much as he can. It is clear, therefore, that men are naturally inclined to hate and envy.”

Thus, it is by way of clear and distinct ideas regarding what affects our striving that we move from the first to the second kind of knowledge. As seen above, Spinoza envisions the man of the first kind of knowledge as a man of envy, sadness, hate, and so on, while the man of the second kind of knowledge has the ability to temper these affects by way of the universal idea of man. Or as Spinoza writes regarding the relationship between the striving of the mind and adequate and inadequate ideas:

“The essence of the mind is constituted by adequate and by inadequate ideas (as we have shown in P3). So (by P7) it strives to persevere in its being both insofar as it has inadequate ideas and insofar as it has adequate ideas; and it does this (by P8) for an indefinite duration. But since the mind (by IIP23) is necessarily conscious of itself through ideas of the body’s affections, the mind (by P7) is conscious of its striving, q.e.d.”

Thus, we strive to persevere in our being regardless of the kinds of knowledge we have. Moreover, and insofar as we have inadequate ideas regarding the unity of the mind and the body, and insofar as we think of the mind as determining the body, we will not be able to understand which affects afflict the mind and restrain its power of understanding, just as we will not be able to understand what affections of the body restrain its power of acting. For this reason Spinoza writes, “An affect cannot be restrained or taken away except by an affect opposite to, and stronger than, the affect to be restrained.”

In the last instance, the question of the ethical distinction between the mind and the body rests on this primary concern: what are the affects which determine my striving to persevere in my being? Do they aid or restrain my striving? Are they joyous or saddening? And do they aid or restrain my power of movement and rest, or my power of understanding and use of reason? By making the ethical distinction, Spinoza allows us to understand ourselves, and our relation to others, in light of these nuances regarding the affects. If we have seen that it is our striving in accordance with the first kind of knowledge which gives rise to sad affects and constitutes human bondage, it is by way of the second kind of knowledge which gives rise to an association of human beings which is beneficial for all. As Spinoza writes, “Men still find from experience that by helping one another they can provide themselves much more easily with the things they require, and that only by joining forces can they avoid the dangers which threaten on all sides.” It is by understanding what is common to all men, by way of the common notion of Man, that we come to see how human beings agree in certain and determinate ways. Therefore, while we strive to persevere in our being, it is our striving in accordance with this second kind of knowledge (reason) that we strive in such a way that not only benefits ourselves but others as well. This common notion of Man, in light of the second knowledge, understands our striving as the same striving as other human beings insofar as they are understood as modifications of thought and extension, both which express God’s essence. This would be the meaning of Spinoza’s statement that “man is a God to man,” which is made possible by the ethical difference of the powers of the mind and the powers of the body, each which constitute our striving in the world.

III. Parallelism As Ethical Distinction

The examples of the sad individual populates Spinoza’s Ethics: the madman, the chatterbox, the drunk, the child, those who believe Nature’s telos is man, those who rely on the sadness of others for the exercise of their own power, the envious person who takes pleasure in another’s lack of power, and so on. What unites all these individuals is the idea that they believe themselves free because they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes which determine them. As I have been arguing, the arguments found in IIP7 and IIIP2, do not serve the the purpose for a proof regarding a non-interaction between the mind and the body. Spinoza’s arguments regarding his supposed “parallelism” do not set out to show how the mind and the body are unrelated, or separated. Nor do his arguments provide a deepening of any supposed mind-body dualism. Rather, the thesis regarded as “parallelism” in Spinoza’s work ought to be understood in its ethical valence.

First, in terms of their metaphysical meaning as understanding God as the cause of the attributes of thought and extension. Second, in terms of their epistemological meaning as understanding the powers of the mind and the powers of the body as united in each individual and constitutive of their power of striving. Third, in terms of their ethical implications insofar as it is necessary to understand what aids and restrains our understanding of the necessary and essential causal relations. Thus, in Spinoza’s vision of ethical life, the ethical distinction between mind and body serves as a diagnostic in order for us to strive in accordance with reason. It is for these reasons that Spinoza cannot be said to posit a parallel relation between the mind and the body, and must be understood to pose this as an ethical distinction, since the Ethics is a work which sets as its task an understanding of human freedom in relation to all the causes which exert their power over ourselves and others. On this point Spinoza’s word puts it best:

“My account of the matter, the view I have arrived at, is this: no deity, nor anyone else, unless he is envious, takes pleasure in my lack of power and my misfortune; nor does he ascribe to virtue our tears, sighs, fear, and other things of that kind, which are signs of a weak mind. On the contrary, the greater the joy with which we are affected, the greater the perfection to which we pass, that is, the more we must participate in divine nature.”


‘Ethical Difference’: Spinoza and Deleuze (Part I)

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.42.47 PM

Two ideas motivate this inquiry into Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza. First, how does Deleuze envision the parallelism attributed to Spinoza as an ethical concept, as opposed to an ontological one? Second, how does this lead to Deleuze’s remarks regarding ethical difference in Spinoza’s Ethics? It is these two questions that are involved in this claim: “There is in Nature neither Good nor Evil, there is no moral opposition, but there is an ethical difference.” (Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 261). What follows will be a close reading/overview of Spinoza on his own terms, with follow up posts regarding the intersections between Deleuze and Spinoza.

The Subject Of Parallelism

When approaching the claim that Spinoza argues for an understanding of mind-body dualism, conceived through parallelism, it is important to highlight to whom exactly this idea of parallelism pertains. If the parallelism of IIP7 pertains to human beings themselves, then we would be correct to claim that Spinoza, in fact, retains a form of mind-body dualism. If parallelism does not pertain to human beings themselves, then we must find in Spinoza’s text another subject to whom this idea would pertain, and the reasons why parallelism does not pertain to human existence. If we consider the propositions leading up to IIP7, we can begin to clarify our inquiry. Beginning from IIP1 up to IIP6 Spinoza does not mention, even once, the idea of human existence; nor is it the case that Spinoza’s main concern in these propositions is providing arguments for the nature of modal existence as such. Contrary to this reading, Spinoza’s prime concern in these pages is still with the nature of God and its expression through its infinite number of attributes.

Propositions 1 and 2 deal with the attributes of thought and extension, respectively. Moreover, Spinoza’s demonstrations and scholiums in these propositions make reference to God as the being in question. Regarding IIP1, Spinoza writes: “Singular thoughts, or this or that thought, are modes which express God’s nature in a certain and determinate way (by IP25C). Therefore (by ID5) there belongs to God an attribute whose concept all singular thoughts involve, and through which they are also conceived.” Regarding IIP2, the demonstration “proceeds in the same way as that of the preceding proposition.” From these two propositions, Spinoza argues IIP3 from the context of understanding God as an absolutely infinite being with an infinite power of thought: “In God there is necessarily an idea, both of his essence and of everything which necessarily follows from his essence.” That is to say, if God is an absolute being with an absolute power of thinking and existing and has attributes which express this infinite essence, then God has an infinite power of thinking from which an infinite number of things necessarily follow. Moreover, if it is the case that in God there is “necessarily an idea” both of his essence and existence and everything necessarily follows from this initial claim, it is clear that in God there is necessarily an idea (God’s own idea) for everything that follows from God’s essence. That is to say, if God’s intellect is truly infinite and necessary, then for every idea in God there is by necessity a thing which corresponds to this idea. This last point can be seen in IIP4 and VP22, respectively: “God’s idea, from which infinitely many things follow in infinitely many modes, must be unique;” “Nevertheless, in God there is necessarily an idea that expresses the essence of this or that human body, under a species of eternity.”

Following from what we have said thus far, and moving to IIP5 and IIP6, we see that Spinoza demonstrates his propositions, again, in terms of God. It is the case, both with the attribute of thought and the attribute of extension, that God is to be understood as the cause of each. Therefore, when we consider the attribute of thought itself; when we are seeking the “formal being of ideas;” we are not searching for the ways in which the modes of thought relate to the modes of extension. Rather, we are attempting to understand the relationship between the attribute of thought connected to its cause. Now, as stated in IA4 (“the knowledge of an effect depends on, and involves, the knowledge of its cause”), knowledge of the attributes of thought and extension rely upon connecting them with their cause, which is God, or Nature itself. Therefore Spinoza will write in his demonstration of IIP5, “the formal being of ideas admits God as its cause insofar as he is a thinking thing.” Regarding IIP6, Spinoza applies the same logic in the demonstration: “the modes of each attribute involve the concept of their own attribute, but not of another one, and so (by IA4) they have God for their cause only insofar as he is considered under the attribute of which they are modes, and not insofar as he is considered any other, q.e.d.”

Now we are in a better position to return to IIP7. As we have seen thus far, Spinoza has been arguing about the metaphysical relationship between substance and attributes and has not been dealing explicitly with anything that would lead to a consideration of these arguments in terms of mind-body dualism. However, another problem arises regarding this proposition. It would appear that Spinoza provides his readers with two forms of justification for IIP7: epistemological on the one hand, and metaphysical on the other. As he writes in the demonstration of IIP7: “For the idea of each thing caused depends on the knowledge of the cause of which it is the effect.” Here, we can see that Spinoza understands the order and connection of things and ideas as following the same logical structure as that of the knowledge of things, which depends on the knowledge of their cause. However, in the corollary, Spinoza offers a different justification: “From this it follows that God’s [NS: actual] power of thinking is equal to his actual power of acting. That is, whatever follows formally from God’s infinite nature follows objectively in God from his idea in the same order and with the same connection.” Thus it appears that Spinoza provides an epistemological and metaphysical justification for IIP7, which would tempt a reader to understand this proposition as pertaining to both modal existence (e.g., human beings) and God itself. However, these two justifications, which may seem to be at odds with one another rest on a shared idea running throughout Spinoza’s Ethics: the causal relations between God and the modes is not the same as the causal relations between the modes themselves.

However, the seeming contradiction between the epistemological and metaphysical justifications for IIP7 are done away with if we recall what was already made clear from IIP1 through IIP5; that is, for every idea in God there is necessarily a thing which corresponds to it. That is to say, the epistemological and metaphysical justifications Spinoza provides are related to God’s relation to itself. This relation of God to itself, as I am arguing is the case in Part II of the Ethics leading up to IIP7 means the following: God is the order and connection of things and ideas, because the subject in question regarding this order and connection is substance’s relation to itself, and not the a modes relationship with another, or multiple, modes. Thus, if God has an idea of itself which is identical to God’s expression of its essence, through the attribute of extension, it is because God’s essence involves the understanding of itself as first cause (causa sui). God as causa sui, then, isn’t merely the motor which drives Spinoza’s metaphysics; an axiom which serves as the explanation for how change occurs regarding modal existence. Rather, God as causa sui has a more profound role insofar as we understand God’s own knowledge of itself as meaning God’s own knowledge of itself as first cause.

Thus, if the knowledge of each thing depends on knowledge of its effect, God’s idea of itself always involves the understanding of God as cause of itself, and hence God’s own knowledge of itself, which expresses God’s infinite perfection and necessity. Moreover, the reason Spinoza argues for the relation of identity between ideas and things insofar as they pertain to God’s essence is by virtue of the fact that, in Spinoza’s system, there cannot be an attribute of God’s which is more powerful, or has more reality, than any other. Any claim which would seek to privilege one attribute (e.g., Thought) over another (e.g., Extension) would contradict the more fundamental claim that each attribute expresses God’s infinite essence and is therefore equivalent in reality, or its power of existing. At this point, and by way of summarizing what was just argued, it is instructive to recall Spinoza’s definition of God and attribute in light of my own reading of the argument laid out beginning with IIP1 up through IIP6. By God, Spinoza understands, “a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.” By attribute, Spinoza understands, “what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence.”

With these definitions in mind and understanding the propositions leading up to IIP7 aa dealing with Gods relation to itself, it is now clear that insofar as we understand the intellect in this case to be God’s intellect (and not human intellect), God’s own idea involves the knowledge of itself as causa sui; where the knowledge of itself pertains to God’s understanding itself as the cause of the attributes and God’s expression through them. This would be the crucial point made in IIP7: the relation of identity between the attributes of thought and extension is consistent with Spinoza’s metaphysics because each attribute expresses God’s infinite and eternal essence, and has God as their cause. Moreover, the supposed “parallelism” between the attributes of thought and extension is misunderstood if it is taken to suggest any type of dualism operative in Spinoza’s work. As we have seen, God is the order and connection of ideas and things because substance is expressed through each attribute equally, or identically, and thus necessarily and infinitely.

Lastly, and by way of transition, we must take into account Spinoza’s own understanding of the difference between the substance and its modes (and specifically, the mode of human existence), if we are to understand how the notion of parallelism becomes important for thinking through Spinoza’s ethical theory. If it is the case that “parallelism” does not conclude in a mind-body dualism because it’s arguments pertain to the nature of substance, it is important to underscore the difference between the nature of substance and the nature of the human being if we are to avoid any further possible interpretations of a latent mind-body dualism in the Ethics.

To understand this difference, IIP10 provides us with a clear example and extension of IIP7, and how Spinoza differentiates substance and its modes. As he writes, “The being of substance does not pertain to the essence of man, or substance does not constitute the form of man.” In this proposition, Spinoza argues for a non-identical relation between the being, or essence, of substance and the “essence of man.” If both God and human beings shared the same essence – meaning the existence of two beings whose essence involves their existence as infinite and causa sui – then this would constitute two substances, which contradicts Part I of Spinoza’s Ethics. Spinoza has already shown the difference between the essence of God and the essence of human existence in Part I, and is as follows:

“For example, if twenty men exist in Nature…it will not be enough (i.e., to give a reason why twenty men exist) to show the cause of human nature in general; but it will be necessary in addition to show the cause why not more and not fewer than twenty exist. For (by III) there must necessarily be a cause why each [NS: particular man] exists. But this cause (by II and III) cannot be contained in human nature itself, since the true definition of man does not involve the number 20. So (by IV) the cause why these twenty men exist, and consequently, why each of them exists, must necessarily be outside each of them. For that reason it is to be inferred absolutely that whatever is of such a nature that there can be many individuals [of that nature] must, to exist, have an external cause to exist.”

Thus, the important difference between the “being of substance” and the “essence of man” is the difference between a) a being whose essence is infinite and indivisible, and a being whose essence is finite and divisible, and b) substance as causa sui and the cause of modal existence, and modal existence as a modification and effect of the attributes of substance. Therefore, the “being of substance” and the “essence of man” differ because the “essence of man” is dependent on, and involves, the “being of substance” as its cause, and therefore is not equivalent in its nature to substance, or God itself. As Spinoza writes regarding the essence of man, “it is something (by IP15) which is in God, and which can neither be nor be conceived without God, or (byIP25C) an affection, or mode, which expresses God’s nature in a certain and determinate way.”

Articulated in another way but equivalent in essence, we can say that the being of substance is freedom, while the essence of man is necessary and determined. As Spinoza writes, “That thing is called free which exists from the necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone. But a thing is called necessary, or rather compelled, which is determined by another to exist and to produce an effect in a certain and determinate manner.” Thus, IIP7 as it pertains to the being of substance reinforces, and is consistent with, Spinoza’s prior understanding of God as an infinite substance that is causa sui having an infinite number of attributes, where thought and extension are two attributes which constitute its essence and express, equally and therefore identically, the essence and power of substance itself. It is in this way that parallelism is a proposition on the equivalent powers expressed by each attribute, which have God as their cause, and not a proposition arguing for a mind-body dualism, whether in God or in human beings (since human beings, as modes, are expressions of God’s essence in a certain and determinate way).