Contents of spoon-archives/deleuze-guattari.archive/papers/glatz.deleuze
Deleuze: A Trajectory via Liebniz and Hume
By T. Glatz
Gilles Deleuze will be remembered as a philosopher, that is, as a
creator of concepts. The scope of his concepts range from literature,
through the sciences, politics and art. Like the breath of fresh air
that he once used in reference to Sartre, Deleuze himself breathes fresh
air into otherwise pedantic works that have become normalized in the way
they are approached. Nowhere is this more evident than in his
reevaluation of philosophers in his early historico-philosophical work.
Deleuze was schooled in traditional philosophy and he labored long in
this field before he came to write books of his own. His impressive
compositions on Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, Spinoza and Liebniz, his
discussions of Plato, the Stoics and the Epicureans also betray his
partiality for those fellow philsophers "who seemed to be a part of the
history of philosophy, but who escaped it one respect or altogether".
[Deleuze, I Have nothing to admit] His reevaluations teaches a method of
approach that opens the reader to fresh understandings and leads D to
the creation of powerful concepts.
Deleuze's method of studying philosophy was not to search for hidden
signifieds as it was for Roland Barthes. Rather Deleuze tried to get
hold of the texts "by the middle" refusing to follow them step after
step according to the order of their argumentation or the order of
reason. In his own words, he did this early work by "conceiving of the
history of philosophy as a kind of ass-fuck, or, what amounts to the
same thing, an immaculate conception. I imagined myself approaching an
author from behind and giving him a child that would indeed be his but
would nonetheless be monstrous." [Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues] He
forces arguments and reasons, and precipitates them toward their
vanishing point, until he gets a hold on the machine that generates
the problems and the questions of the speaker.
One of his most popular concepts, that of nomadology, and in particular,
that of nomad arts, can be found in D's earlier work on Leibniz and
Hume. Beginning with Leibniz, it is possible to trace the roots of
nomadic theory from the "monstrosities" Deleuze created from their work
and follow a significant trajectory that leads to his last book, 1000
Plateaus. This paper will attempt to follow the trajectory in an
Leibniz was a German rationalist of the 17th century. Besides advancing
symbolic logic and creating a plan for the invasion of Egypt that
Napolean may have used 120 years later, he also invented a calculating
machine which could add, subtract and do square roots. Furthermore, he
discovered infinitesimal calculus simultaneously with Sir Isaac Newton
and got into a squabble with him concerning who had stolen the idea from whom.
Leibniz wished to correct the error of Cartesian metaphysics without
rejecting its main structure. His system as set forth in his Monadology
and Essays in Theodicy can be summarized in terms of three principles.
The first, the Principle of Identity, divided all propositions into two
types which later would be called analytic and synthetic propositions.
Analytic (a priori) sentences (all caribou are mammals, either A or not
-A, parallel lines do not converge) includes definitions and parts of
definitions, arithmetic and the principles of logic. Synthetic (a
posteriori) sentences, on the other hand are not true by definition but
their truth or falsehood is based on facts in the world. They are not
necessary, rather contingent and could be false if the facts were
different, for example: "the caribou is on the snow". The Principle of
Identity is the positive counterpart to the Principle of
Non-contradiction (which says that it cannot be the case that A and not
-A at the same time). Philosophers found this an exciting discovery
but Leibniz made the surprising move of claiming that all sentences are
really analytic (sub specie aeternitatis), that is, from a divine
entity's ("God") point of view, all true sentences are necessarily true
even though it doesn't seem to be the case to human perspective.. For
Leibniz, "the caribou is on the snow" because it is a characteristic
necessary to that specific caribou.
This opens the way for Leibniz's second principle, that of Sufficient
Reason. According to L, to anything which exists, there is some reason
why it exists exactly as it does. Leibniz claimed that this is the main
principle of rationality and that anyone who rejects this principle is
irrational. If the caribou is on the snow, then there is a reason why
the caribou exists at all and why it is on the snow and not, e.g. on a
counterfeit American $100 bill. What is true of the caribou is true of
the whole cosmos: there must be a reason why the universe exists and it
is open to rational human inquiry. Like St. Thomas, he concluded that
the only possible answer would be in terms of an uncaused cause, a
The third portion of Liebniz's theory, the Principle of Internal
Harmony, states that if there is an all-perfect divine entity, then it
must be both rational and good and actualize only those possibilities
which would guarantee the maximum amount of metaphysical and moral
perfection. If the caribou is on the snow, it is because that specific
caribou must be on that specific snow. All other possibilities (caribou
on a snowmachine, counterfeit $100 bill on the snow) have been ruled out
by the divine entity. This led to Leibniz's notorious claim that "this
is the best of all possible worlds", lampooned meticulously by Voltaire
Almost every philosopher in the 250 year period after the publication of
Descartes Meditations conceived of reality in terms of "substances".
Leibniz call these substances "monads" which he defined as "units of
psychic force". They are simple, that is, they have no parts and each
is "pregnant" with all of its future states. Each monad is a mirror of
the entire universe (God, according to L, actualized only those monads
which would mirror the rest of the universe) but they perceive the rest
of reality only as features of their own inner states. "Monads have no
windows" according to Leibniz. All monads have psychic life but some
have a higher degree than others. These monads (or communities of
monads clustered around a "dominant monad") are concious. Some conscious
clusters of monads are also free and these are human beings. (Of
course, as in the theory of St. Augustine, God already knows how they
will spend their freedom.)
Leibniz's monadic world resembles a building with two floors: on the
upper floor, windowless monads, distinct from one another and without
interaction, express the world, each one of them from a singular point
of view. On the lower floor, organic and inorganic matter becomes
subject to forces of the world that govern and account for its
movement. The two floors communicate through the world, which is
virtual, albeit actualized, in the monads and realized in matter. The
world is the fold that separates the floors as it links them together.
The concept of the fold and the power of the virtual link up with
eachother in Leibniz, make him diverge sharply from the expressionism of
Spinoza, where everything is subjected to an uninterrupted causal "explicati
on." From his reading of Leibniz, Deleuze forges his own concept of the
fold and uses it extensively to make the questions of Leibniz resonate
but also to define the baroque as a style and to elaborate the theory of
power and subjectivity that he shares with Foucault. The concept fold
becomes central in Deleuze's thought. Its recurrence in his works
under different names and masks, establishes that it is the "somber
precursor" of Difference and Repetition, the "esoteric word" of The
logic of sense, the "outside" of Foucault, the "line of death" of the
Dialogues and 1000 Plateaus. It is the entity or agent that holds
diverging series together and makes possible a theory of inclusive
disjunctions. Monadolgy to Nomadology.
Leibniz, of course, would have found this "monstrous". He remains an
uncompromising theorist of convergence not of divergence. But a more
complex world than his, with an infinity of floors (strata), can be
imagined. Of course, L thinks of his world of converging series as the
best possible. But the reason this world is the best possible is no
longer its participation in the ideal model of the Platonic Good. The
world is the best possible as a result of divine selection. One more
step is possible on Deleuze's precipitation toward a vanishing point:
"God can be replaced by Baphomet, the 'prince of all modifications', and
himself modification of all modifications...Rather than signifying that
a certain number of predicates are excluded from a thing in virtue of
the identity of the corresponding concept, the disjunction now signifies
that each thing is opened up to the infinity of predicates through which
it passes, on the condition that it lose its identity as concept and as
self." [Deleuze, The Logic of Sense] And Deleuze does take this step.
Leibniz's analytic/synthetic distinction was revived nearly 100 years
later by David Hume, recognized as one of the most acute, if most
perplexing, of the British empiricists. Hume referred to the
distinction as "relations of ideas" (analytic) and "matters of fact"
(synthetic). In accepting this distinction, Hume was admitting that
there are such things as a priori necessary truths. It would seem that
any empiricist who accepted this was jeopardizing the program of
empiricism by recognizing the legitimacy of the rationalist's dream, but
Hume defused this by adding one more characteristic to the list of
features of "relations of ideas". He said that they are all
tautological, that is, repetitive, redundant, merely verbal truths which
provide no new information about the world, only information about the
meaning of words. Thus, given the conventions of the English language,
it is certainly true that "all caribou are mammals" but saying this
tells nothing about any particular caribou that wasn't already known by
calling it a caribou in the first place. So the rationalist dream of a
complete description of reality which is a priori and necessarily true
is but a dream. a priori truths aren't descriptions of anything,
according to Hume. Only synthetic claims, "matters of fact" can
correctly describe reality and these are necessarily a posteriori.
Therefore, all knowledge of the world must be based on observation.
This, of course, is the central thesis in all empiricism.
What Hume was claiming was that there are basically only three
categories of analysis. Given any proposition whatsoever, that
proposition is analytic, synthetic or nonsense. Hume said, "When run
over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make?
If we take in our hand any volume -- of divinity or school metaphysics,
for instance -- let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning
concerning quantity or number (analytic truths)? No. Does it contain
any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence
(synthetic truths)? No. Commit it then to the flames for it can contain
nothing but sophistry and illusion." (Hume, incidentally, did lose his
job as a librarian.)
There is then a clear "Humean" method of philosophizing. One takes any
claim which one would like to test and asks a series of questions about
that claim. If it can be traced back to sense-data, eg., "the caribou
is on the snow", it passes the empirical criterion. If it cannot be
traced to a sense impression, then, according to Hume, it is nonsense.
In this manner, Hume was able to get rid of the notions of "God",
"material substance", "world". But most important to Deleuze, was
Hume's questioning o f the notion of "causality" and "self".
If the sentence "x causes y" is taken, where x and y are both events,
"x" as the event of a bullet striking a caribou and "y" as the event of
the caribou moving after being struck, Humean questions can be asked
about this proposition. Is the sentence "x causes y" analytic (that is,
is the sentence "x does not cause y" a contradiction?) Obviously not,
because it is perfectly possible to conceive of a bullet striking a
caribou and the caribou not moving. (already dead caribou, stunned
Is the sentence synthetic? Now it seems that the answer would be
affirmative because there should be no difficulty tracing the idea back
to sense-data. But Hume, being Hume, found a difficulty. When he
analyzed the concept, he could find no necessary connection, that if x
happens, y must happen, yet this is what needed to be found if the
concept of causality was to be sensible. "Causality" proved to have the
same status as "God" and "material substance". This had far-reaching
consequences. It means that whenever one says that x causes y, it is
really only reporting the human expectation that y will follow x in the
future. This is a psychological fact about humans and not a fact about
the world. There is no rational grounding of the expectation.
Hume's discovery is known as the "problem of induction". What makes
humans so certain that the future will behave like the past? If it is
answered, "because it has always done so", it is begging the question.
The real question is: "must it do so in the future, just because it
always has done so?" There can be no appeals to the "laws of nature",
because then the question is, "what guarantees that the laws of nature
will hold tomorrow?" Hume concluded from all this that there are no
necessary connections between any two events in the universe. This idea
led to what one philosopher has called "dustbowl empiricism" -- the view
that reality proves to composed of unrelated entities casually (not
causally) associated with each other in a tenuous and ephemeral manner.
"Hume's Fork" (the analytic/synthetic distinction) has equally
significant results for the concept of "self". There can be no sense
datum to which the concept can be traced. Far from finding the self to
be simple, indubitable, absolutely certain, eternal soul which Descartes
claimed it to be (and actually attempted to physically locate it
somewhere in the pineal gland), Hume used his method to find that "there
is no such idea" as "self". The so-called "self" proves to be a "bundle
or collection of different perceptions...which succeed eachother with an
inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement." (which
Lyotard follows up in the 20th C.)
Hume had consistently and vigorously followed empiricism to its
vanishing point. The results were that rationality was found to be very
small, reduced to verbal truths and descriptions of sense data; yet
nearly everything that interested people, especially philosophers, fell
beyond these limits. Hume believed that he had shown that human life
was incompatible with rationality and that human endeavors always had to
be irrational. (rationally one can never know that the caribou that
nourished one yesterday will nourish one today, hence one can never be
rationally motivated to eat).
Deleuze takes from Hume the method of transcendental empiricism, which
allows him to dissolve idealism and to reach for atomic and distinct.
Empiricism and Subjectivity: an essay on Hume's theory of Human Nature,
is among D's earlier writings. True to his own "reading by the middle",
D refuses to define empiricism on the basis of the postulate that the
validity of ideas depends strictly on corresponding sense-data or
reflection. He rather believes that the principle of empiricism rests
with Hume's doctrine of the externality of all relations: relations are
always external to the terms they relate (even in the case of analytic
relations). The principle of empiricism, therefore, Deleuze argues --
is a principle of differentiation and of difference: ideas are
different because they are external to and separable from one another.
It is easy to understand, therefore, why the question "how to relate or
associate entities which are different" finds in Hume, and in D, an
urgency that it never had before. Hume's associationism leads Deleuze, in the final analysis, to a theory of inclusive disjunctions and a theory of paratactic discourse, that is, to the triumph of the conjunction "and" over the predicative "is". (the caribou and the snow and the coun
terfeit $100 bill and the accessible academic paper...) and forms the
theoretical basis of the nomadology and the nomad arts.
In 1000 Plateaus, Deleuze gives a lengthy characterization of nomad
art. Nomad arts mobilize material and forces instead of matter and
form. Traditional art, being law oriented, strives to establish
constants and, by means of unchanging forms, to discipline and control
a supposedly unruly matter. Nomad arts, on the other hand, strive to
put variables in a state of constant variation. Nomadic art is never
prepared in advance, nor is it homogenized. It is rather a "vehicle of
singularities which constitutes the form of the content. As for
expression, instead of being formal, it is as inseparable from the
pertinent characteristics, which constitute that matter of the
expression." Deleuze, faithful to his principle of transcendental
empiricism, commends the techniques of iconic isolation that turns
representational work into "matters of fact" and prevents their becoming
situated inside a network of intelligible relations outside of the work
itself, e.g., the suggestion of a museum through the serial numbers on
the photograph and counterfeit $100 bill and the academic paper. It is
not the expression or the content of a work of art that captures
Deleuze's attention. It is the form of the expression and the form of
the content, the parallels established between the two and the resonance
of their association. Deleuze describes this as finding something
"between" as opposed to binary distinctions, e.g., the photograph and
the counterfeit $100 bill and the academic paper rather than "that is a
photograph; that is a counterfeit $100 bill; that is an academic
paper". And a truly nomadic work would combine these things for a
"becoming photograph $100 bill academic paper" though it is most nomadic
to leave that up to the viewer. The viewer orientation is not constant
but changes and the eye of the viewer must transcend traditional
perception to open the way for other perceptions. "There is no visual
model for points of reference that would make them interchangeable and
unite them...they are tied to any number of observers who may be
qualified as "monads" but are instead nomads entertaining tactile
relations amongst themselves." [Deleuze, 1000 Plateaus]. Nomadic art
and the photograph and counterfeit bill, find their way "along the
edges" into traditional forms to dislocate and disrupt traditional
perceptions and formats and academic papers.
D's thoughts cannot be contained within the textual allegory (Sartre,
Camus, Ecco, etc.). The studying and writing about Deleuze involves a
problem with the "text running away with itself", a problem Brian
Massumi warns the reader/writer (territorializer) about in his User's
Guide and there is a dearth of (intelligent) articles that actually
contain quotes from the work of Deleuze. The main thrust of his
theoretical intervention is the articulation of a theory of
transformation and change which, together with a language adequate to
it, would be sufficiently strong to resist all binary distinctions. It
is this effort to articulate that motivates Deleuze to the concept of
nomadology, and in particular, the nomad arts, that can be accessed
through the understanding of it's roots in Deleuze's early work on
Liebniz and Hume. Or in its actual use, by example, e.g., in academic papers.
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Barthes, Roland (1980) New critical essays University of California
Barthes, Roland (c1974) S/Z Hill and Wang, NY.
Baudrillard, Jean (1996) The perfect crime JB and Semiotext(e), NY.
Baudrillard, Jean (1975) The mirror of production Telos Press, St. Loius.
Baudrillard, Jean (1994) Simulcra and simulation University of
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Critical Art Ensemble (anti-copyright 1994) The electronic disturbance
Critical Art Ensemble (anti-copyright 1996) Electronic civil
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Dean, Kenneth and Brian Massumi (anti-copyright 1992) First and last
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Deleuze, Gilles (1987) Dialogues Columbia University Press, NY.
Deleuze, Gilles (1991) Empiricism and subjectivity: an essay on Hume's
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Hanch, Tik Hak (1975) Being peace
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MIT Press, Cambridge.
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Sacher-Masoch, Leopold von (1870) Venus in furs Zone, NY.
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