Ray Brassier: A Critique of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition


I have just typed-up my somewhat haphazard notes from a lecture earlier in the year by the philosopher Ray Brassier, author of Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. In the lecture he outlined Deleuze’s critique of representation as found in Difference and Repetition, offering his own short critique at the end. When I spoke to him after the talk he told me about the ‘terrifying’ rigour of Deleuze’s book. He felt the only point of possible critique comes with this ‘leap’ to a spiritualisation of reality. Brassier suggests that Deleuze doesn’t provide an adequate explanation of his arrival at this pronouncement.

Firstly, Delueze’s critique of representation as found in Difference and Repetition is in distinct two parts:

1. Ontological

2. Epistemological

The critique continues on from Heidegger’s (Being/Time Dasein), but is more radical as it presents new problems to the task of philosophy. It reconfigures and reconciles the Universal and the Singular with a positive concept of difference and repetition.

In Kant thought is capable of grasping reality and deals with identifying the conditions of understanding our objective reality. Kant’s transcendentalism is a critique of metaphysics (i.e. Aristotlean Matter and Form). The Universal pertains to Form, whilst Matter pertains to the sensible — that which can be sensed — which in turn pertains to the Singular. These are conditions that determine the structure of reality.

Deleuze in turn attacks Aristotlean metaphysics and Kantian epistemology. For him the logic of categorisation is specification, which is an unsatisfactory schema of difference. In the schema of difference generality and specificity represent the limits of the graph of distribution (x: general/universal y: specific/singularity). Deleuze shifts into a new terrain to reconcile the two.

Deleuze does this by addressing categorical difference or differences in the classification of being; being subsumed as a category of one its own species. Being as a category is a problematic super-category for Aristotle and later this is taken up by Hegel. It would have to be both Universal and Singular in order fulfill this, which is impossible for Aristotle. This precludes a univocal being and loses the difference that Deleuze values.

Deleuze also wants to get rid of Kantian judgement and representation: logical/analogical. Representation evokes judgement. Judgement attributes being by measuring the subject of judgement. The distributive predicate, the conservative nature of judgement and the ideal of justice are the guiding priniciples of judgement, which results in the parcelization of being to each thing-in-itself (noumenon). Deleuze then distinguishes between distribution that divides that which is distributed and distribution that occurs where an open space is occupied.

Sedantry distribution: Judgement disregards the material singularities that cannot be subsumed by the generic category. Judgement operates by allocating things to different pre-established categories.

Nomadic distribution: This is difference without a concept, an affirmation of the extremis. Inequality is the motor of distribution and resistant to hierarchies since things that distribute themselves cannot be compared legitimately to one another.

Delueze is therefore anti-egalitarian (Nietzschean). Egalitarianism is not necessarily radical. Neither is the ideal of fairness or equivocity.

In Deleuze being cannot be a generic category. It therefore leads to a renewal of the problem of individuation, which seeks an intelligible difference in the Idea. He sets the logic of representation against the logic of expression. Deleuze wants a theory of individuation through the universal and singular without conceptual mediation. For him, ontological univocity reconciles being to difference through expression (see Spinoza/Nietzsche). The problem of Spinozist monism is that it is still a transcendentalism of modes. Deleuze evacuates this, becoming nothing but an expression of modes. He therefore posits an alternate logic of expression to supplant the equivocal illusions of analogy.

So what does Deleuze’s shift mean?

He privileges essence (intuition) in order to overthrow Kantian representation: things as we know them and things as they are in themselves. He collapses thinking and being. Expression is being thinking itself. He folds Kant’s dialectic into one: thinking/being. In this there is univocity. This leads him to extravagantly claim that concepts become things themselves.

He describes this as Transcendental Empiricism which he sets against metaphysical Aristotleanism and Kantian transcendentalism (which divides concepts and things). Ideas then become differential structures. For Deleuze, Ideas are defined as multiplicities — things in continuous variation and resistant to identification — they are pure differences that cannot be named accurately. We sense creatively through innovation and in so doing incarnate relations of pure difference, unlike hypotheses drawn from observations that are based in identification. Thinking then determines the logic of expression. Reality is then an expression of thinking. Therefore sensation thinks, which is an anti-materialist pronouncement. The consequence of this is that the World thinks itself. It generates its own determinate structure (determinant differenciations).

Problems that emerge (Brassier’s critique):

Representation is not just ideological bad habit. The world encourages representation, it encourages its own distortion. Deleuze reiterates the Bergsonian dualism of duration and space, which is a useful dualism that is irreducible. He qualifies 3-dimensional space as a kind degenerate form of time and hence a form of representation. Representational thought is a degenerate form of thought. Deleuze seeks to free thought from the strictures of representational thought, whether it be recognition, identification or equilvalence. Thinking should be the ultimate expression of difference.

Is there anything wrong with the dualism of Deleuze or Bergson? Is it a relapse? Are some dualisms useful or fruitful?

One possible problem is that Deleuze spiritualizes reality. Thought (philosophy) is considered a maximally creative act, an ontological edict. Brassier puts forward the idea of the rehabilitation of representation/epistemology, perhaps through alternate forms of representation. Deleuze’s ‘leap’ to a peculiar Pan-Psychism (the spiritualization of reality) leads to the prospect of being meaning something. This for Brassier is extravagantly imperialistic. Here there is the possibility that knowing might be more important that than thinking. For him it is a mistake to politicize ontology.

Brassier contends that conditions of representation are secreted and reality generates representation in degenerate form. Thinking is therefore a synonym for duration in which thought spatializes itself through expansion; a dialation. This allows intelligence to represent it through the inexplicable residue of intensity.

Update: A similar lecture by Ray Brassier has been posted on YouTube here. It is in six parts and includes a much more detailed examination of Heidegger and Being:

The Pure and Empty Form of Death: Deleuze and Heidegger (Parts 1-6)


About andrewosborne

Andrew Osborne has recently completed his MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmith's.
This entry was posted in Deleuze, Heidegger, Kant, Ray Brassier and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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