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Isolated Experiences: Gilles Deleuze and the Solitudes of Reversed Platonism
Facultad de Filosofia y Letras
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
I acknowledge Professor Alphonso Lingis for his contributions to this work.
The task of contemporary philosophy has been defined: the reversal of Platonism.
--Gilles Deleuze, 1968
Difference and Repetition
1. Difference As Production And Limitation...............
2. The Eternal Return Does Difference: Production........
3. See With My Own Eyes: Limitation
4. Verbs And Nouns
5. Emily, The Patient, Bliss, Deleuze
6. Desire, Not Want
7. Invitation To Possession
8. Distance Without Measure
9. Rank Weeds And Fair Appearances
10. Love Is For Other People
Introduction Experiences can be incestuous. They develop away from the general population;
their genetic structures restlessly curve back into their own private histories.
If they are going to be explained, they will have to explain themselves.
Like sideshows at the travelling fair, it is not enough for the aberrations to be there. If the bearded woman and her dwarf-husband are just there, just walking around like all the rest of us, everybody ignores them, pretends not to notice, turns the other way. So a barker must be there too, with a tent to conceal the singular couple. He explains to passers-by why they want to see this freak of nature; he tells us why we should pay money to look.
When his reasons make sense we go in and stare. This is a crucial element of what Gilles Deleuze means by reversing Platonism, it is not just malforming the priorities within Platonism, but also redirecting the mechanism for understanding reality, redirecting it into certain scenes. These scenes conjure their own meaning. Understanding no longer stretches out toward common reference and public accessibility, like Socrates referring to his universal metaphysical skyline. Understanding retracts into generation, a specific generation that looks like side-shows and backwater, provincial customs; it looks like things that make their own sense at their own performance and nowhere else.
This book charts three secluded locations of experience bending back in on itself: difference, possession, alienation. In the bending back, philosophy splits. Difference is the broad, theoretical watershed dividing a transient world ofbecoming from one destined for placid identity. Possession is the subject's watershed dividing bodies violently swirled into disjoint forms and capacities from identities suffering nothing more than slight modifications in the midst of projects and circumstances. Alienation is the social watershed dividing a world mired in solitude from one understood through others. At each of these points, Deleuze follows the first alternative and so cuts away from philosophy's oldest tradition and finest lineage. I go with him. I show why Platonism fails to explain experience in limited cases, each within the categories of difference, possession, or alienation. Then I practice Deleuze's very twisted Platonism to better account for the recalcitrants.
Platonism is not Plato. To grasp Plato, read the dialogues as criticizing Socrates. Platonism helplessly worships Socrates. Platonism identifies with the Republic's allegory of the cave, it grovels for the sun-drenched Outside.
It allies with the young Socrates in the Parmenides as he earnestly ponders whether there exist Forms of hair and dirt. When ideas like this get taken seriously, Plato reduces to Platonism.
If Platonism is so stunted, why reverse it? Because difference at its most compelling waits on the other side. Nietzsche would say Platonism is pregnant with a future; it is pregnant with difference. But not a simple opposite, no one will understand Deleuze by reading Plato and then looking up antonyms. Reversing Platonism means listening for another truth curled inside
That this reversal conserves many of the characteristics of the Platonists is not only inevitable but desirable....it is like the animal in the midst of being trained, its movements in final crisis best witness the state of natural liberty about to be lost: the Heraclitean world wails in Platonism.
The essential elements of difference have been constrained inside Platonism. To bring them out, and in concentrated form, bring on a crisis.
The crises in this book will always be crises of explanation, short moments where Socrates painfully fails to describe the world but where he imposes nevertheless. Here, from the gaps of brief failure, difference will surge. And surge through the very terms and ideas Socrates is imposing.
Desire, for example, plays a leading role for both Platonism and Deleuze, as does the simulacrum. But Deleuze always perverts the precedent; watch him put lack after desire and raise simulacra to philosophic respectability. Platonism howls in protest.
And it should howl, we should protest because Platonism is generally good, both intellectually and morally. It explains larger chunks of experience better than difference while buttressing a civilized ethics. Meanwhile, Deleuze's earth fills with localized threats of holocaust. Difference chisels experience with snarling aggression. It starts with an imposition blowing past dependence on others and blowing out the world entirely, then it pitilessly regenerates being and meaning in rigid compliance with its own selfish projects. This is Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus recklessly slaughtering a play's entire cast on the way to claiming his daughter's shame as his own. It remains uncertain whether this deranged power should be taught. But even if we don't teach it, scattered experiences will still fall through the cracks in morally acceptable philosophies. Deleuze enters here, explaining what no one else can, explaining with a method and with a philosophy inspired by Platonism reversed.
He enters only rarely. Deleuze's philosophy works selectively. In this book, Deleuze's brand of difference will explain rare cases of possession and infrequently encountered states of alienation. No attempt to go further. This is not about imperial theory, it is about regional philosophic practices.
The principal Deleuzean texts of reversal: Nietzsche and Philosophy (French publication: 1962), Difference and Repetition (1968), and Logic of Sense (1969). From Nietzsche, the first thinker to work explicitly against Socrates by working within Platonism, Deleuze learned a willpower that constructs: the world can be an active fabrication, not a corrupted metaphysical truth. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze spells out difference's historical situation and basic tenets. Here, difference contains itself as a locus of production, a production climaxing in the generation of its own limits, its own end.
Reference to anything exterior, anything outside falls away. Like Nietzsche before him, Deleuze is more than elitist. In Logic of Sense, Deleuze exhibits one of Plato's authentic skills, the ability to meld philosophy with literature.
The book jauntily displays ideas developed earlier and dryly. Style reaches adequacy to substance; in both form and content, Deleuze has enveloped Socrates, spun him around, taken something from him, and guiltlessly moved on. The sequence counting down to Deleuze's reversal: Nietzsche, difference, difference practiced in literature.
The sequence determining this book: difference, difference possessing, difference as possession generating isolation. At each step, the corridor between Platonism and Deleuze will narrow. First, it is an open dispute about the genesis of the world. Then it tightens to human proportion and grinding strife on the formation of identity. Finally, the way between collapses under the combined weight of alienation and a grave choice between two irreconcilable positions--one side or the other, Socrates or Deleuze, identity or difference.
I wrote this book to distill a reversed Platonism and to draw it through selected and critical subjects Deleuze himself barely touched, subjects demonstrating the practical value, the potency of his thought. I wrote because Deleuze's work lets philosophy inject legitimate difference into experience and because Deleuze's work purges the fear from possession and because only Deleuze can answer this: what does it mean to be alone?
I. Difference Begin with production and limitation. Production works at the base level where unformed being, where unformed experience emerges. The specific character experience takes, whether we see a table as gracefully carved from supple wood or as something keeping books and papers off the floor, whether we hear a bloodcurdling scream and fearfully retreat or wait in anticipation, whether we think of Beethoven as musical elegance or shrill noise, all this is limitation. To achieve identification, a production must be limited; when limitation encircles production we have discrete experience.
The ancient Greeks gave us form and matter. In the Phaedo, Socrates maintained a firm duality: when the physical body died, the material stayed with it and the philosopher's emancipated soul floated free into the spinning metaphysical afterlife. For Deleuze, production and limitation collapse. They collapse into a mechanical operation of production imposing its own limitation.
But Deleuze is no simple monist. He does not talk about the origin, he points to plural sources. Further, Deleuze has no confidence in these sources. He sees them constantly separating into pieces and reforming as different beginnings with different operations. To the degree that we have origins, what we have are raw generations and their own self-inflicted definitions. Numbers like one, two, three, and titles like monism, dualism, and dialectics will follow subsequent to the initial action; instead of describing production and limitation, these abstractions result from it. Deleuze stays close to his idea by using blatantly inadequate terms like "pre-singular" to express the operation
of his deficient monism. As a title, Deleuze chooses Socrates's bane:
1. Difference As Production And Limitation...in place of something which distinguishes itself from other things, imagine something which distinguishes itself--and yet in distinguishing itself it does not distinguish itself from the others.
Philosophy is crowded with notions of difference. Paul de Man's means different from something. In Allegories of Reading, he shows how we use figurative language by establishing its difference from literal language; the figurative and literal depend on each other by each laying their foundation across the other's back. The patrons for this agitated difference are Hegel, and Kojeve's Hegel, and the master/slave dialectic.
Deleuze has his own difference, one inspired by Nietzsche. It implies self-differentiation: simple difference, not different from something. Instead of difference between things, we have a produced differentiation within something. Instead of understanding and acting through the process of tense opposition, acts and things understand themselves by unilaterally limiting and distinguishing their meaning. When Deleuze uses the term difference, he is not signalling the forces of opposition to begin their struggle, he is recognizing that some things don't need struggles. And if there is a struggle, it amounts to nothing more than a mock battle constructed by difference as a medium for its own action. For Hegel, the struggle was not at all simulated; it was a life and death battle about slavery. In his Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche responded that the master had nothing to fear from the slave; the slave reduces to a constructed stage-prop or a homemade puppet the master toys with. Far from being a threatening outsider, Nietzsche's slave is the master's own creation.
Deleuze fits into the history of philosophy right here. For him, contrast and challenge and the dialectic become props for difference. If they exist, difference manufactures them. Difference generates its own meaning, definitions, and limits.
Difference For Itself A finger turns in light circles across your toes and the pads of your feet. Is this irritating? ticklish? erotic? relaxing? According to difference, the delineation does not usher from an exterior source, like the masseur telling you to relax or a social norm insisting that when your wife does this it is sexual and when your doctor does this it is not. Instead, let the physical action define the borders and meaning. Think of fingers curling over a foot's toes and running down toward the heel. Imagine it, and only it. Not your foot, a foot. The fingers have no arm and no identity. The entire episode takes place without a background, without any time or place or situation. This instantiates the experience difference proposes. The material produces and defines its own sensations. It itself creates the episode. Tickling?
Disturbing? What the event is and what it feels like arise on the scene.
When you add things from outside the immediate site, you move to a second kind of experience. Add that the foot is yours, and that the fingers belong to a professional masseur. Everything formalizes. The scene glides into the well travelled experience of relaxing because we know a massage is supposed to relax because we read it on the sign before going in.
Two separate experiences come to be in accordance with two unrelated rules. One extends from difference in the form of unilateral distinction, it is blind and deaf to anything beyond. Another works through definitions imposed, through background noise like customs and prosaic language and socialized patterns. I use Deleuze to focus on the first experience.
...difference is that by which the given is given.
Being is Difference.