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Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation

of Life

Nathan Eckstrand

Duquesne University

I begin with Deleuzes criticism of the Darwinian concept of
difference as leading to the inaccurate assumption that difference
occurs within individuals and species. Deleuze radicalises Darwins
theory by disrupting the ontological stability of species and extant
individualities. I examine how Deleuzes project relates to punctuated
equilibrium and the discovery of the amount of variation within the
human genome, showing that these recent developments make Deleuzes
critique less applicable by showing that Darwinian classification schemes
should include a greater openness to difference. A complete alignment
between evolutionary biology and Deleuze may be impossible given the
limitations of evolutionary biology, but evolutionary biology can rethink
the ontological permanence it gives to species and individuals.
Keywords: Deleuze, evolutionary biology,
classification, species, punctuated equilibrium



I. Introduction
In the years following his trip on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin
challenged the meaning of variation within living things, formulating
his theory of evolution by natural selection to explain the diversity
of characteristics living things possess. Since that time, evolutionary
biology has incorporated Mendelian inheritance and the relatively new
field of genetics to offer better explanations for the origins of new
Deleuze Studies 8.4 (2014): 415444
DOI: 10.3366/dls.2014.0164
Edinburgh University Press

416 Nathan Eckstrand

species and novel individuals. A century after Darwin, Gilles Deleuze
qualifies and resituates, without opposing, philosophies of univocal
being in which Being is said in a single and same sense of everything
of which it is said (Deleuze 1994: 36) within his larger philosophy
of difference. As Deleuze himself recognises, there are a number of
points of convergence and divergence between these two theories in their
explanations of how difference appears and operates within the world.
Both theories reject a typology that classifies entities into universal,
absolute categories and propose a system by which new beings and new
differences can come into existence; yet Darwin stops short of privileging
differences over individuals, and instead provides the notion of species
with a sense of ontological stability incompatible with Deleuzes concept
of individuation. Darwin references individual differences rather than
taxonomic structures, but from a Deleuzian perspective, Darwins use
of the categories of individuals and species presupposes processes of
individuation that constitute individuals which can subsequently be
sorted into species. This paper examines these similarities and differences
between Deleuzes philosophy of difference1 and Darwins theory of
evolution, focusing on Deleuzes compliments and criticisms of the
Darwinian project. Deleuze critiques Darwin because the Darwinian
concept of difference is difference inherent in individuals rather than
individual difference, a concept that leads Darwin to inaccurately
assume that difference occurs within individuals and within species
whereas a true philosophy of difference claims individuals and species
develop through processes of individuation. Deleuzes philosophy of
difference borrows from Darwin the critique of hierarchical classification
schemes that substitutes a dynamic model, but radicalises Darwins
theory by disrupting even the ontological stability of species and
extant individualities. Since there have been several important shifts
in evolutionary biology since Darwin, this paper also examines how
Deleuzes project relates to two more recent developments within the
field, punctuated equilibrium and the discovery of the amount of genetic
variation within the human genome, focusing on whether the Deleuzian
critiques of Darwins version of evolution are still applicable. These
recent developments within evolutionary biology make the Deleuzian
critique of Darwin less applicable to contemporary evolutionary studies,
as these discoveries have shown that the Darwinian classification
schemes are in need of revision to include a greater openness to
difference. While a complete alignment between evolutionary biology
and Deleuze may be impossible given the technological and structural
limitations of evolutionary biology, at the very least evolutionary biology

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 417

can rethink the ontological permanence it gives to the categories of
species and individuals.

II. Deleuzian Ontologies

A preliminary difficulty confronting this project is the variation
between Deleuzes ontologies as expressed in Difference and Repetition,
A Thousand Plateaus and even What Is Philosophy?, for how Deleuze
situates and explicates both processes of individuation and their
relationship to species and extant individuals shifts as Deleuze modifies
his project. It is worthwhile to recall some of the differences between
these works before moving into a direct comparison of Deleuze,
Darwin and contemporary evolutionary biology. One of the most
popular characterisations of Deleuze, made by Alain Badiou and
Slavoj iek among others, is that Deleuzes ontology works out
into a transcendental idealism inasmuch as it reinstates an ontological
divide between the immanent and the transcendent. Difference and
Repetition and Logic of Sense, according to this analysis, set up an
ontological system where subjective processes precede and condition
experience, a system that starts with the empirical and seeks its necessary
transcendental conditions.2 As Deleuze desires to escape subjectivity
and the focus on the immanence of appearance that characterises
phenomenology, his early work is aimed at developing a transcendental
critique of representation that draws from Kant the notion of synthesis
and production in order to explain the conditions necessary for the
possibility of the real. Yet Deleuze wants to avoid entirely accepting
the Kantian position, and so posits that the syntheses which produce
the real are not subjective constructs but are embedded in the very
production of reality rather than in the manner in which it is represented.
Alistair Welchmans commentary on the project of the early Deleuze
says Deleuze effects a speculative reconstruction of reality that is not
relative to specifically human interests, . . . a reconstruction driven by the
transcendental and critical thought that the real processes of production
of empirical objects cannot themselves be objects (Welchman 2009: 32).
Difference and Repetition portrays the processes that produce objects as
transcendental and outside the bounds of immanence for the purposes
of situating them as conditions of reality rather than elements of reality
itself. In studying these processes, Deleuzes investigation begins in
the empirical realm and gradually traces back to their transcendental
conditions; it keeps a foot in the field of experience, and in doing so
essentialises the nature of the empirical just enough so that Deleuze is

418 Nathan Eckstrand

never able to fully escape a concept of subjectivity nor a presupposition
of the products of the transcendental processes being described.
Difference and Repetition depends on a form of subjectivity, as in its
description of the syntheses of time it posits larval selves that think
about and draw together temporality in order to ground it (Deleuze
1994: 78). Such larval selves are fragmented pieces of subjectivity spread
out across the organic stratum, and as such they are in part necessary
for the constitution of temporality as it is consciously apprehended.
The fact that, as Welchman says, it appears that living/lived time is
still constituted by contemplative subjects/selves . . . (Welchman 2009:
43; original emphasis), indicates that the subjective constitution of
representation that was the hallmark of Kants transcendental idealism
is not completely absent from Deleuzes early ontology.
Yet this changes in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, where,
in partnership with Guattari, Deleuze resituates the transcendental as
a process within the materiality which Deleuze defines as desiringproduction of the world. The fundamental difference in method is that
whereas in Difference and Repetition Deleuze began from the empirical,
in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze begins with the
transcendental, or with the notion that experience is constituted. Deleuze
does not work back to the syntheses, but begins with the notion of
synthesis by seeing it as immanent within the empirical. One does not
have to leave the empirical to get to the transcendental conditions they
are completely contained within it. The clear difference in ontology is
that there is no need for a metaphysical subject, no need to ground
the transcendental within the organic stratum; the transcendental now
comes as part and parcel of the materiality of the world. In explaining
this relationship with regards to temporality, Welchman says:
Nevertheless, two important changes are obvious: in the first place, the role
and position of anything like the subject have changed; and, in the second
place, the syntheses are no longer understood as constitutive of temporality.
Underlying these changes is a modification of Deleuzes basic strategy
from attempting to ground his thought on a transcendental constitution
of time dependent on the organic stratum to a kind of temporalisation
(schematisation) of logical operators into a transcendental conception of
matter. (Welchman 2009: 49)

Temporality, which in Difference and Repetition had been conceived

of as dependant in part on a mode of subjectivity, becomes, in AntiOedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, caught up in the understanding of

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 419

matter as desiring-production. In making this shift, Deleuze extricates
himself from a transcendentally constituting subjectivity.3
Deleuzes attempt to supplant Darwinian evolution refers to a
constituting plane that precedes individuals, as the failures of Darwinian
evolution, from a Deleuzian perspective, come from its attempt to adhere
to the stability of individuality and species as ontological forms, a failure
which Deleuze works to overcome by uncovering the transcendental
condition for individuals, species and other kinds. How successful this
attempt is, and how much it separates itself from the contemporary field
of evolutionary biology, depends in part on where such transcendental
conditions are located. This point can be made clearer with a discussion
of Deleuzes critique of the category of species in Difference and

III. Deleuze, Darwin and Speciation

Because of the problem associated with previous means of
representation that it subjugates difference to a larger unity, but only
by assuming the unity rather than demonstrating it (Deleuze 1994:
33) Deleuze argues for the primacy of individuation over species, or
of the need for science and other related discourses to deal first with
the conditions for the appearance of the singular individual and second
with that individuals categorisation. The reason for this is that processes
of individuation have ontological priority over species, as the very
idea of species presupposes the existence of individuals, constituted by
processes of individuation, which can be sorted into categories. Not
only do species presuppose individuation, but species presuppose that
individuals constituted as such are open to change through sensation and
intensity (247). It is clear that Deleuze inherits this concept from Gilbert
Simondons examination of the genesis of individuals, where Simondon
posits the necessity of a principle of individuation in order to properly
situate the individual within the study of the growth of organisms:
Research carried out under these assumptions [that individuation need only
be studied in regards to an individuals characteristics] accords an ontological
privilege to the already constituted individual. Such research may well prevent
us from adequately representing the process of ontogenesis . . . The idea that
individuation might have a principle at all is a crucial postulate . . . (Simondon
1992: 298; original emphasis)

Simondon opposes any study of organisms that begins by conceiving

of the living individual as a constant essence, a unity incapable of

420 Nathan Eckstrand

fundamental disruption. He articulates as an alternative a study of the
preindividual, or the processes of individuation that provide entities
and relations their eventual fixity. Albert Toscanos excellent study of
theories of individuation in The Theatre of Production emphasises how
this study is a necessary condition for any other scientific study, saying:
Simondon proposes we turn to a domain that of the preindividual where
neither relationality nor individuality can be branded with the fixity that
would allow them to be subjected to a logic of predication. To comprehend
the genesis of individuals . . . is therefore inseparable from the task of thinking
the genesis or constitution of the relation itself. (Toscano 2006: 1378)

Individuation, as the study of the processes that give determination,

predicates and fixity to entities and relations one encounters, does not
assume the individual but seeks the conditions of its formation. By
definition it also does not assume speciation or the particular grouping
of organisms along the lines of genealogy and inherited traits. For
both Deleuze and Simondon, species are an illusion patterned onto the
appearance of individuals via individuation. Whatever their utility in a
scientific sense, they do not provide the tools for judging individuals
in terms of their uniqueness and precise configuration. But it would
be a mistake to think Deleuzes system of individuation exactly copies
that of Simondon, for Deleuze, unlike Simondon, refers his system of
individuation back to differentiality and multiplicity, thus finding a way
to describe the beginnings of a system without recourse to preconstituted
individualities like Simondons preindividualities (and, arguably, the
larval selves of Difference and Repetition). Simondon disassembles the
ontological primacy of the individual, but does so by referring to the
ontological order of a principle that constructs individuals in a certain
way. Deleuze, by contrast, posits multiplicities that do not count as
units, principles or universals, and which as a result are constantly
open and productive of difference (Toscano 2006: 162). Unlike the
Aristotelian ontology which designates the categories as prior to and
more essential than individuals (Aristotle 1984: 1037b29), Deleuze is
able to conceive of individuals apart from any categorical apparatus by
looking at processes of individuation, and as a result the necessity of
having an ordering concept or image prior to the individual disappears:
It is not the individual which is an illusion in relation to the genius of the
species, but the species which is an illusion inevitable and well founded, it
is true in relation to the play of the individual and individuation. (Deleuze
1994: 250)

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 421

Scientists and philosophers have continually resorted to the method
of categorising objects, ideas, faculties and other existents through
generalised groups as in doing so they are able to develop a useful
knowledge that seems to explain the nature of the world they inhabit.
Deleuzes concern comes from the fact that the knowledge developed
hides the more basic phenomenon of individuation. To use the language
of species before one has understood the processes that constitute
an individual is to conceal life as it actually is. Deleuzian biologist
Stanley Shostak makes a similar point in Evolution of Sameness and
Difference: Perspectives on the Human Genome Project, saying that
to use characteristics to understand and classify beings before really
understanding how individual beings are constructed leads to absurdity:
In the epistemology of life, nothing ranks higher than sameness for
communicating, especially communicating ideology with conviction. As a
consequence, many patently absurd assertions about life go unchallenged
in ordinary science and are only elevated in revolutionary science: molds
and mosses have a thallus (even if their thalli are the same only in word);
Embryophyta and Metazoa produce embryos (with nothing whatsoever to
recommend the comparison); head, thorax, and abdomen, appendages, jaws
(mandibles, maxillae), and limb (trochanter, tibia, etc.) exist in insects and
vertebrates (sharing nothing more than their names). (Shostak 1999: 3940)

Shostak believes the problem with science emphasising sameness is

that it posits sameness without considering whether the category is
warranted, and either ignores or hides the important role difference
plays in constituting the unity of life. Species, as units of biological
classification defined by a similarity of characteristics conventionally,
the ability of individuals within that group to interbreed are an example
par excellence of this problem, and the reason why Deleuzes critique of
Darwinian evolution will focus in large part on speciation.4
Realising the limits of species indicates that a proper conception of
difference and the correct organisation of series needs to open itself
to chance, to an evolution of forms, leaving behind restrictive regimes
of representation. This does not mean that categories like species or
divisions by kind need to be abandoned, but they cannot be taken as
ontologically sound:
The principle of degradation obviously does not account either for the
creation of the most simple system or for the evolution of systems (the
threefold difference between biological systems and physical ones). The living
therefore testifies to the existence of another order, a heterogeneous order
of another dimension as though individuating factors or the atoms taken

422 Nathan Eckstrand

individually with their power of mutual communication and fluent instability
there enjoyed a higher degree of expression. (Deleuze 1994: 255)

In a sense, Deleuze is trying to rehabilitate a sense of creativity at the

heart of reality an opening to becomings and differences that opposes
a causal or deterministic worldview. Viewed from this perspective,
Difference and Repetition is a response to a realist understanding of
the world that sees the actual as all there is and claims the only
task for philosophy and science is finding the proper categories and
representations to understanding the world. Deleuzes reference back
to the differences underlying and conditioning representation does the
work of instilling the world with a creativity which cannot be subjugated
to similitude, as there is no way to take them up into an already existing
Before moving on to a discussion of Darwin and contemporary
evolutionary biology, it is important to review the conceptualisations
Deleuze gives science throughout his corpus, so as to be in a better
position to see just how well contemporary evolution fits into Deleuzes
ontology. Although I have so far been primarily discussing Difference
and Repetition, because that work never provides science as a whole
with a theoretical formulation, Deleuzes other works must be taken
up. What is relevant within Difference and Repetition is what is
discussed above: the critique of similitude, the call for a study based
on difference, and the search for the transcendental conditions of the
real. These characteristics, understood in broad strokes, continue to
hold true in Deleuzes later work with Guattari, What Is Philosophy?
The primary difference between the two works at least in regards to
scientific knowledge is the relationship that philosophy has to science,
for Difference and Repetition, beginning as it does in the empirical,
implies that the conceptuality of philosophy must begin from the same
starting point as science. From that point, philosophy delves into the
transcendental conditions, while science articulates the ontology and
the relationality of the entities which have been constituted (inasmuch
as such things can be studied empirically and, through a scientific
methodology, given a degree of intellectual rigor).5 By contrast, What Is
Philosophy? claims that the difference between the two fields lies in their
relationships to the infinite chaos, or differences, at the heart of being.
Philosophy works on concept, providing a consistency to the chaos
and bringing it all together to contain it; science works on functions
and propositions, attaching itself to the chaos in order to grasp its
operations. Science accomplishes this by slowing down the speeds of the

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 423

chaos so it can draw up a schematic of it, one replete with formulas
and variables. Science actualises the plane of immanence, in part by
describing relationships and mechanisms that illustrate how objects,
forces and elements behave within specific environments. Evolution
by natural selection, as a model for understanding the production
and perpetuation of variation within populations, operates as such a
mechanism. Because of the approach science takes to the infinite chaos,
it is unable to ever grasp the whole of being; instead, by its very nature, it
produces breaks and discontinuities blind spots that science recognises
as thresholds beyond which it cannot function:
It is not only the diversity of these limits that entitles us to doubt the
unitary vocation of science. In fact, each limit on its own account generates
irreducible, heterogeneous systems of coordinates and imposes thresholds
of discontinuity depending on the proximity or distance of the variable
. . . Science is haunted not by its own unity but by the plane of reference
constituted by all the limits or borders through which it confronts chaos.
(Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 119)

Science allows a grasp on the world through the construction of grids

and references (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 127). The category of species
functions as a frame of reference that enables a demarcation of the
world, but the category runs into its limits when it tries to conceptualise
the individual. The nature of science means that the truth of species is
not absolute, but relative. Science is creative, but what it creates are
determinations and quantities of information (132). Describing science
like this undermines arguments that portray science as the ultimate
interpreter of how things are. Science adds important understandings
to our collective knowledge, but it does not occupy by itself a privileged
place among the various fields mobilised to engage with difference.
The limit of this reading of science to that talk of a science of
functions and functives is to talk of a science expressed through
theories, hypotheses and axiomatic propositions; while this is true for
some variations of science, there are other means by which science
is conducted. Manuel DeLandas comparison of Deleuzes various
ontologies makes this point clear, as All the examples of functives
(the components of functions) given in WIP [What Is Philosophy?]
come from classical mechanics. No mention is made, for instance, of
the operators of quantum physics, which use functions themselves as
inputs and outputs (DeLanda 2002: 2212). Recent discoveries within
science have opened pathways to think of entities and forces outside
the functive model, and are more open to the chaos which underlies

424 Nathan Eckstrand

it. In addition to the quantum mechanics DeLanda mentions, there are
also new fields of computer modelling and contemporary models for
evolutionary variation. The picture of science in What Is Philosophy? is
the modern mechanics and dynamics of individuals like Darwin, Curie
and Einstein, but contemporary science is more adaptable to the organic,
rhizomatic ontology Deleuze discusses in other works.
In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari paint a different
picture of what they call nomad or minor science. This science is
contrasted to the royal or major science of axiomatic propositions, for
while royal science deals with the field of exact and inexact, nomad
science deals with anexact that which is neither inexact nor exact, but
which expresses itself as a vague essence. While royal science works to
describe, set out, verify and segregate, nomad science follows, connects,
flows and problematises. Whereas state science works out principles,
nomad science opens itself to new problems, searching not for answers
but for opportunities for new encounters:
Royal science is inseparable from a hylomorphic model implying both a
form that organizes matter and a matter prepared for the form; it has been
shown that this schema derives less from technology or life than from a
society divided into governors and governed, and later, intellectuals and
manual laborers . . . It seems that nomad science is more immediately in
tune with the connection between content and expression in themselves,
each of these two terms encompassing both form and matter . . . [nomad
science] follows the connections between singularities of matter and traits
of expression, and lodges on the level of these connections, whether they be
natural or forced. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 369)

Royal science is formalised and established, and as such continues to

articulate along the same lines again and again. Once chemistry received
its theoretical elaboration through the concept of weight, and once
Euclidean geometry articulated a theory of gravitational parallels, they
both became forms of royal science (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 370).
Yet when a new element is introduced which shifts the theoretical
grounding of such science, one finds a space for nomad science. Thus
Deleuze calls nomad science, or smooth space, the space of smallest
deviation (371); it does not overturn royal science, but neither does it
work with it. It vectors off in another direction, not trying to discover
the forms and axioms that royal science does, but to see where the
singularity of their new direction leads. Ideally, both sciences can work
in concert (inasmuch as that is possible, seeing that one cannot unify
the two completely), for while nomad science can invent problems, it

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 425

takes royal science to develop solutions via its theoretical apparatus
(374). Nomad science deviates from the functive science of What Is
Philosophy?, and is more open to changes than axiomatic science. As
such, it can perhaps theorise contemporary scientific discoveries in a way
functive science cannot; as DeLanda says, it is the more Deleuzian
approach to the subject (DeLanda 2002: 223).
These two theories of science, the functive, axiomatic one and the
nomadic one, are both vital to an encounter between Deleuze and
contemporary evolutionary biology, as without both it is impossible to
see how science can and should react both to the Deleuzian critique from
the perspective of difference, and to the recent discoveries of punctuated
equilibrium and genetic diversity. Before beginning that encounter, it
is necessary to discuss Darwinian evolution and Deleuzes response to
it to provide the proper context for the developments in contemporary
evolutionary biology.
Charles Darwin, with his book The Origin of Species, introduced
the theory of evolution by natural selection, proposing a solution to
one of biologys most fundamental problems: how to account for the
similarity and diversity observed in living things and life forms. Darwins
observations suggest that individuals could be viewed as products of a
sequence of certain biological events. Instead of categorising living things
by morphology, Darwin proposed a mechanism or process for how
groups such as species came to be. Individuals characteristics depend
on the characteristics of their ancestors:
By the theory of natural selection all living species have been connected
with the parent-species of each genus, by differences not greater than we see
between the natural and the domestic varieties of the species at the present
day; and these parent-species, now generally extinct, have in their turn been
similarly connected with more ancient forms; and so on backwards, always
converging to the common ancestor of each great class. (Darwin 1909: 335)

Knowing that there is a historical process underlying biological

classification opens up the possibility that there might be more than
one classification system. If the genealogies of living organisms converge
in the past on a common ancestor, then at some point in the past the
classes of things were different, and they will change in the future.
Species once existed that have since become extinct or are present
in different forms. The integration of fossils into evolutionary theory
supports the thesis that natural selection can lead to extinction or to
the survival of species. Darwin supports his theories of evolution by
natural selection by revealing the similarities between extinct species

426 Nathan Eckstrand

and currently existing species, although many forms did not contribute
to current groups (Darwin 1909: 370). The Aristotelian system may
have been a useful tool, but it loses its utility as it fails to account
for change. Life forms must be in a state of constant change if we are
to make sense of the empirical evidence provided to us. Scarcely any
paleontological discovery is more striking than the fact that the forms of
life change almost simultaneously throughout the world (373). Change
must involve the generation of variation in a manner both random
and undirected, while another force natural selection weeds out that
which is not adaptive.
Darwin develops his theory of evolution by natural selection by
focusing on differences among individuals as a driver of continuous
change. Darwin claims differences among individuals (even within the
same species) occur naturally some people are just taller, thinner,
faster, and so on, than others and some of these differences help
individuals survive and reproduce, passing the advantageous trait to
their offspring. In order for the trait to be selected for, it must be
heritable, as even the traits of the most healthy and fit organism in a
population will not be selected for if the organism fails to reproduce.
Individuals without a selected trait will have fewer offspring or be less
fit, in Darwinian language. Over many generations, assuming that the
trait continues to provide an advantage in reproduction, that trait will
become common in the species, possibly displacing individuals without
it. Individuals without that trait may develop a different trait that is
similarly advantageous, leading to a new deviation from the original line,
or they may just decline in number as the individuals with the selected
trait expand:
But if variations useful to any organic being ever do occur, assuredly
individuals thus characterized will have the best chance of being preserved
in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance, these
will tend to produce offspring similarly characterized. This principle of
preservation, or the survival of the fittest, I have called Natural Selection.
(Darwin 1909: 141)

For Darwin, there is no archetype or intelligence that is shaping

the development of species and the production of new and unique
individuals; it is a natural force working independently of any telos.
Yet because of natural selection, small differences a slightly larger
beak, thicker fur, and so on can become, over time, differentiating
qualities that distinguish one species from another, inevitably changing

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 427

the previous classification system. Inheritance, variation and natural
selection are, together, the three core elements of evolutionary theory.
Deleuze references Darwin because individual differences are critical
to the process of evolution. Instead of seeing difference only through the
lens of representation, Darwins theory examines individual differences.
Darwinian evolution is not motivated by movements towards similarity
but by divergences of groups of organisms. Processes of individuation
are highlighted rather than processes of unification:
The great taxonomic units genera, families, orders, and classes no longer
provide a means of understanding difference by relating it to such apparent
conditions as resemblances, identities, analogies, and determined oppositions.
On the contrary, these taxonomic units are understood on the basis of
such fundamental mechanisms of natural selection, as difference and the
differentiation of difference. (Deleuze 1994: 248; original emphasis)

In Darwins view, classification systems result from fundamental

processes that lead to difference processes like natural selection of
individual heritable variation. Individual differences are transmitted
from one generation to another and the most fit are likely to be
passed on. Thus nature selects for those traits that enable organisms
to adapt to environments and may lead to divergence of populations.
Deleuze identifies three Copernican revolutions at work in Darwinism:
the formation of individual differences via a divergence of traits
and constitution of populations, the revelation of the links between
differences through the coordination of traits within a population, and
the production of differences as the ongoing basis of differentiation and
connection (Deleuze 1994: 249). Darwinism, in other words, allows the
thought of categories reshapeable by processes of individuation and the
idea that individuals have within themselves individuating differences
(250). However, Darwinism fails in a crucial way for Deleuze, as it
references only differences borne by individuals and not individual
differences as such. Darwin still provides the notion of species with
ontological stability by positing that the fields of individuation, as
Simondon calls them, remain the same for all individuals within a certain
species, that only once one goes outside the species can one find a
different field of individuation:
However, this field of individuation is posited only formally and in general:
it seems to be the same for a given species, and to vary in intensity from one
species to another. It seems, therefore, to depend upon the species and the
determination of species, and to refer us once more to differences borne by
the individual, not individual differences. (Deleuze 1994: 252)

428 Nathan Eckstrand

Darwins model is still constrained by similitude and generality;
whatever differences exist between individuals are dependent upon what
differences the category of species will allow for, and difference is not
freed from blockages and regimes of representation. Differences within
individuals are still referred to a larger field of similitude (that of species),
and as a result Darwin is unable to see the individual as the production
of differences (or the result of processes of individuation).
Deleuzes discussion of evolution and Darwinism, both the positives
and the negatives, extends beyond Difference and Repetition into his
other work. In an essay written on Bergson, Deleuze states that biology
shows the process of differentiation at work, and that life itself is the
process of difference. Darwin helped associate the problem of difference
with life in his theory of evolution even though he had a false conception
of vital difference and conceived of it as something external rather than
something internal. Bergson, according to Deleuze, fixes this problem by
developing a concept of internal difference:
Life is the process of difference. In this instance, Bergson is thinking
less of embryological differentiation than the differentiation of species, i.e.
evolution. In his idea of evolution, Darwin helped associate the problem of
difference with life, even though Darwin himself had a false conception of
vital difference. Opposing a particular mechanism, Bergson shows that vital
difference is an internal difference. (Deleuze 2004: 3940)

Deleuzes book on Bergson discusses Deleuzes positive view of

evolution. Evolution, according to Deleuze, takes place from the virtual
to the actual it is a process of actualisation and creation. As a
result, when speaking of evolution it is important to avoid interpreting
evolution either as the possible being made actual or in terms of pure
actuality. Evolutionism is not a sequence of actual determinations along
a single line; to conceive of it as such is to eliminate chance or vital
life from it, and to again subsume life under a concept. Deleuze argues
that a philosophy of life should carry three requirements: first, it must
conceive of vital difference as internal to itself, not external; second,
differences must be seen not as entering into relationships of association
and addition, but dissociation and division; and third, vital difference
must be seen as involving a virtuality that is actualised according to
lines of divergence (Deleuze 1988: 989). It is clear from these notes
that Deleuze advocates reshaping evolution and biological classification
systems by emphasising internal difference and vital life over similitude
and deterministic constructs.

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 429

The encounter in A Thousand Plateaus between the character
Professor Challenger (representative of Deleuzes philosophy) and
traditional evolutionary theory illuminates an alternative to biological
classification systems that embodies these three requirements. This
alternative can be schematically described as a relationship of
double articulation between the plane of consistency and the plane
of organisation that leaves open how differences are concretised
in concepts, words and substances or, to use the vocabulary of
A Thousand Plateaus, how strata are formed. In the first articulation,
the articulation of content, particular molecular units are chosen
from particle flows and given form through an ordering of them in
terms of relationship and sequence as Deleuze and Guattari put it,
content is formed matters. The second articulation, the articulation
of expression, provides mechanisms that shape such matters and
produces composites with these matters as Deleuze and Guattari put
it, expression is functional structures (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:
403). These two articulations, which exist in reciprocal presupposition,
select from the differences, haecceities and speeds of the plane of
consistency before ordering, binding and using them to produce entities,
categories and formations. The strata formed by double articulation are
characterised as
giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into
systems of resonance and redundancy, or producing upon the body of the
earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates.
Strata are acts of capture, they are like black holes or occlusions striving
to seize whatever comes within their reach. They operate by coding and by
territoriality. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 40)

A stratum works to subsume differences and intensities into its

territorialisation to capture whatever happens to fall into its sway.
To be clear, this process that forms and perpetuates a stratum differs
from the changes that entities undergo on a particular stratum, as for
each stratum there is both an interior and an exterior milieu. The
materials within a certain stratum have already been concretised are
already articulated and, while it is furnished by the intensities and
differences beyond it, is part of the stratum (just a different part
from the formed objects) (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 49). The value
of this framework is that it rethinks biology and evolution through
difference in order to avoid the pitfalls of representation. Species,
organisms and differences within individuals are traceable back to
individual differences and divergent series rather than categories of

430 Nathan Eckstrand

similitude. Moreover, by defining materiality outside of a mechanistic
or deterministic framework,6 Deleuze accounts for the movements
and changes evolutionary theory describes without binding life to a
restrictive or static conception of it.
This new ontology reinterprets Darwinism by describing Darwins
two contributions to a theory of difference as the substitution of
populations for types, and the substitution of rates or differential
relations for degrees (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 48). By focusing
on populations, Darwin uncovers a mechanism for the formation of
organisms within an environment that does not posit forms as preestablished but sees individuals within species as open to a whole
assemblage of possible forms. Darwin says:
The many slight differences which appear in the offspring from the same
parents, or which it may be presumed have thus arisen, from being observed
in the individuals of the same species inhabiting the same confined locality,
may be called individual differences. (Darwin 1909: 59)

Individual embryos themselves, according to Darwin, seem to follow

some higher organization (Darwin 1909: 483) which compels
organisms to develop according to a previously sketched-out structure;
yet embryos themselves admit to a degree of variation between
them, implying that there are no eternal necessary forms organisms
fall into but that the cause of an individuals development is at
least in part determined by conditions to which either parent, or
their ancestors, have been exposed (483). Additionally, as Darwinian
natural selection of organisms always occurs within an environment,
a particular organisms ability to survive is not measured according to
an absolute form of excellence, but in relation to other organisms and
the environments it inhabits. The evolution of organisms is relative and
contextual, not totalised. Nevertheless, traditional Darwinian evolution
does not discuss the processes of individuation that Deleuze refers to
in his work. It takes place within the strata of A Thousand Plateaus, or
alternatively within the actual of Difference and Repetition, as evolution
applies itself primarily to individuals and the differences that they allow;
there is no discussion of the double articulation or actualisation of the
virtual that Deleuze respectively discusses in these two works. Yet it
does begin the process of breaking the individual down, and of opening
spaces to see beyond concretised forms, as Darwin points to processes
preceding the individual that are responsible for shaping it namely,
the conditions inherited from ancestors. The Deleuze of Difference
and Repetition is closer to Darwin than the Deleuze of later works,

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 431

for Deleuze, like Darwin, begins his work there by examining the
empirical individual before tracing back to the conditions necessary for
its constitution. Deleuze posits the virtual and larval selves in that work
as a condition necessary for the possibility of individuals just as Darwin
posits evolution by natural selection as a condition necessary for the
possibility of differences within individuals. By contrast, A Thousand
Plateaus does not even begin in the same place as Darwin, but sees
it necessary to first construct the field of empiricism from which a
Darwinian study of differences within individuals can function. The
Darwinian project of On the Origin of Species and The Descent of
Man is conditioned by the project of A Thousand Plateaus. Despite
these differences, Darwinism begins the process of thinking difference
by avoiding reference to categorical absolutes while contributing to the
study of multiplicities through seeing organisms in terms of their variable
traits. What must be avoided is reifying a representation of evolution, or
modelling evolution solely through categorical frameworks that hide the
chaos Deleuze and Guattari reference in What Is Philosophy?
A great deal of the literature written about the connections between
Deleuze and Darwin focuses on the ways in which Deleuze tries to
rescue evolution from mechanistic or reductive perspectives. To save
inheritance from determinism, Deleuze warns against seeing the egg as
an already elaborated place, or heredity as a known event, as to make
that claim is to reduce or erase the becoming at the heart of natality.
The event of a new being cannot be seen as already decided in fact,
it represents a place of decoding and deterritorialisation. Despite the
knowledge scientists have gained regarding DNA and the workings of
inheritance, it is impossible to know the nature of an individual when all
that exists is a fertilised egg. Keith Ansell-Pearson writes:
In both cases Deleuzes aim is to show that the question of heredity is not
simply one that is given, either by the species or by the continuity of the germplasm. Rather, heredity becomes transfigured, and is made vital, through
the becoming of the new individual and through a law of life that goes
beyond laws of genealogy and filiation . . . Natality is always inseparable
from processes of decoding and deterritorialisation. (Ansell-Pearson 1999:
9; original emphasis)

Deleuze does not want to reduce inheritance or evolution to a geneticist

account which claims that all major attributes of a person can be
determined solely by examining that persons genome. An element
of chance is necessarily part of any becoming, and the introduction
of something new into the world opens the door to reinterpreting

432 Nathan Eckstrand

sedimented ways of understanding the world.7 Evolution cannot be
reduced to a germ-plasm such as DNA, but neither can it be seen as
applying only to species or organisms holding either of these views
restricts the flow of difference and makes evolution conform to a certain
image. Evolution is a productive power, yet when it is applied only
to species or applied only to extant organisms, its ability to produce
becomes limited and localised; Deleuze is interested in freeing evolution
by privileging the dissolution of forms rather than containment within
them (Ansell-Pearson 1999: 81). A proper conception of evolution sees
it as a movement involving the production of individuals, and not as
a progression from individual to individual, nor as a movement from
general to particular:
The moves Deleuze is making here are crucial to his insight into germinal life
and to his attempts to articulate a philosophy that conceives of the evolution
of organisms as complex systems in terms of a field of individuation and
intensities. (Ansell-Pearson 1999: 95)

Among the advantages of reinterpreting evolution is that this new

perspective will free up the concept of life from an attachment to a
mechanistic concept of evolution, one that sees life as occurring only
within certain boundaries and fields.8 As Elizabeth Grosz points out,
the concept of life is something that Deleuze returns to again and
again, continually trying to elaborate a definition of it not bound
by conventional notions of subjectivity or recognisable forms of what
constitutes the living and non-living. Deleuzes interest in pre-subjective
forces and modes of living other than the human one reveal his desire
to get beyond a concept of life circumscribed by common sense (Grosz
2007: 297). It escapes any restrictions put upon it by the deterministic
or mechanical explanations of science, creating a more productive and
organic concept.

IV. Punctuated Equilibrium and Genetic Variation

To see how Deleuzes project applies to recent developments, this
paper will focus on two specific developments in recent evolutionary
biology that have important consequences for our understanding of
the organisation and evolution of organisms: the theory of punctuated
equilibrium and recent measurements of the amount of variation within
the human genome. Both will be discussed in terms of how they have
modified the conceptualisation of evolution before moving on to a
discussion of how Deleuze would react to them.

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 433

Punctuated equilibrium claims that evolution is not a gradual process
that shifts one form to another. Instead, variation accumulates through
periods of relative stasis, followed by radical shifts over relatively short
periods of time. This process creates new forms before returning to
periods of relative stasis for extended periods of time. The shift often
occurs in a small and isolated segment of the population. Instead of
seeing the slow evolution of a large group of organisms towards a new
form, one sees a subsection of the group suddenly break off from the
rest of the group and rapidly evolve into a different form. In the paper
generally credited with providing the first comprehensive description
of punctuated equilibrium, authors Stephen Gould and Niles Eldridge
In summary, we contrast the tenets and predictions of allopatric speciation
with the corresponding statements of phyletic gradualism previously given:
1) New species arise by the splitting of lineages, 2) New species develop
rapidly, 3) A small sub-population of the ancestral form gives rise to the new
species, 4) The new species originates in a very small part of the ancestral
species geographic extent in an isolated area at the periphery of the range.
(Eldridge and Gould 1972: 96)

The picture of punctuated equilibrium keeps much of Darwins

original theory in place the idea that new species arise from variation
inherent in previous species, the claim that the specific changes are
selected via natural means, and the notion that changes are passed along
generation to generation by reproduction but changes how scientists
see the origin of new species. For a long time after the acceptance
of evolution as a theory, scientists had no explanation for gaps in
fossil records where no evidence existed of an intermediary between
two distinct species. Most assumed that a lack of data was the cause.
Punctuated equilibrium explains the gaps and posits a new way in which
new species could occur. No evidence exists because changes occur
over a relatively short period of time (evolutionarily speaking), and new
species develop because they originate in an isolated part of a population
(where it is easier for a mutation to spread). Punctuated equilibrium also
reinterprets the creative force in the formation of individual differences,
seeing such creation as more of an explosion outward than a constant
pressure in one direction. One often-quoted example of punctuated
equilibrium, the Cambrian Explosion (the event 600 million years ago
where the number of identifiable species increased rapidly over a short
period of time, establishing most of the species currently recognised), is
responsible for much of the diversity existing today. According to Gould,

434 Nathan Eckstrand

it seems as though this explosion was part of a naturally occurring
Perhaps the explosion itself was merely the predictable outcome of a process
inexorably set in motion by an earlier Precambrian event. In such a case,
we would not have to believe that early Cambrian times were special in
any way; the cause of the explosion would be sought in an earlier event
that initiated the evolution of complex life . . . The pattern of the Cambrian
explosion seems to follow a general law of growth. This law predicts a phase
of steep acceleration; the explosion is no more fundamental (or in need
of special explanation) than its antecedent period of slower growth or its
subsequent leveling off. (Gould 1978: 127)

Punctuated equilibrium, building on Darwins insights, posits a new

process of evolution and explains the incredible diversity of life that
Darwins theory cannot.
The second development in evolutionary biology is a relatively new
one, having only recently been published, and its implications are
yet to be completely understood. With the recent sequencing of the
human genome, scientists such as Sarah Tishkoff, Esteban Parra and
Michael Bamshad have discovered an unexpected amount of genetic
variation within human individuals and populations. The result of this
achievement has led to a rethinking of the role variation plays within
populations. Expectations of variation prior to the sequencing of the
human genome were that if one were to take two individuals at random
and compare their genomes, for the most part they would be the same,
with differences appearing in one in every 600 or so base pairs; however,
subsequent to the completion of the human genome it was discovered
that on average a difference appears in one in every 60 base pairs. This
appears to contradict traditional evolutionary theory, which claims that
variation is eliminated by natural selection, which weeds out variations
not as fit as other variations. Darwin explains this aspect of his theory
in his discussion of extermination:
therefore if an area be inhabited by very many species, each or nearly each
species will be represented by few individuals; and such species will be liable
to extermination from accidental fluctuations in the nature of the seasons or
in the number of their enemies. The process of extermination in such cases
in such cases would be rapid, whereas the production of new species must
always be slow. Imagine the extreme case of as many species as individuals in
England, and the first severe winter or very dry summer would exterminate
thousands on thousands of species. (Darwin 1909: 140)

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 435

While nature inevitably and necessarily produces variation by the
process of mutation, it also destroys it by the process of natural
selection. This does not mean that individuals within a species will
eventually become identical because mutation continually generates
variation. There is a constant process of generating new variation and
eliminating variation. Evolution by natural selection leads to certain
traits becoming less important. Many believed that the amount of
variation within the genome would be limited by natural selection. Yet
a number of experiments mapping genetic variation across populations
have revealed that groups once thought to be mostly genetically
homogenous actually contain a remarkable amount of genetic variation.
Over time, the genes and DNA sequences that code for particular
traits have not disappeared but formed dead genes littering the human
genome (Coyne 2009: 67). For example, human populations within
parts of East Africa, instead of containing fairly homogenous genotypes,
actually possess one of the greatest amounts of variation among all
the populations on the planet (Tishkoff et al. 2009: 103544). The
variation in human populations is mirrored by linguistics, culture and
history as well. A recent study examining the correlation between
skin pigmentation and genetic diversity discovered that even people
with similar skin colours have significant amounts of genetic variation
between them as the same skin colour may be caused by multiple
different genetic configurations. As the authors put it, the trait of skin
pigmentation is an example of how misleading simplistic interpretations
of human variation can be . . . (Parra 2007: 101). The cause of
this large amount of variation is not yet known, as this discovery is
relatively new, but it has problematised how subgroups of humans are
classified. While earlier discoveries regarding human genetic diversity
have cast doubt upon race as a biological classification (Livingstone and
Dobzhansky 1962: 27981), the excessive amount of genetic diversity
within populations calls into question categories such as population
(Tishkoff and Kidd 2004: S26), ethnicity (Royal and Dunston 2004: S5)
and geographic location (Bamshad et al. 2004: 601). As one researcher
puts it,
For hundreds of years, we have based inferences of individual ancestry on
proxies, such as differences in physical appearance, language, or derivative
concepts of ethnicity and race. None of these characteristics is determined
entirely by genetic or environmental factors, but separating out the relative
contribution of each will often require sorting individuals into ancestral
groups . . . (Bamshad et al. 2004: 6078)

436 Nathan Eckstrand

The study of evolutionary biology and genetics does not support
the categorisation of organisms strictly by appearance, function
or other obvious categories. Instead, the processes constituting
the individual such as their genome derived from their ancestral
lineages need to be the locus from which classifications of any sort gain
utility and efficacy. With the revelation of the amount of diversity within
the human genome, it is possible to see the stability of species and
other representations being undermined not only over a period of time
as evolution selects for new traits, but also from within the present
moment as individuals, genes and pre-subjective processes take on more
ontological weight in the understanding of difference and variation
within all organisms.
These developments are, of course, not representative of the entirety
of evolutionary biologys development post-Darwin, since like any field
there are multiple voices directing its progress which are not always
in agreement; however, they are relevant to this paper as they are
illustrative of several ways in which variation and difference have
been reinterpreted since Darwins time. But what would Deleuze think
of such developments? Deleuze would welcome any casting off of a
representation or image used to restrict the flow of difference, and both
developments mentioned above can be interpreted as doing such, but
it is possible that the developments just replace one representation for
another. In regards to punctuated equilibrium, for example, the authors
of the original paper advocate using the punctuated equilibrium model
instead of the model of gradual evolution in most cases. If the punctuated
equilibrium model were to replace the one of gradual evolution,
then Deleuze would charge evolutionary biology with substituting one
representation for another. While punctuated equilibrium has been
shown to be a reasonable model in certain cases, scientists for the most
part have avoided completely replacing gradualism with punctuated
equilibrium, referring to individual cases and their relationships to one
another to determine which model for evolutionary change is adequate.
Both punctuated equilibrium and gradualism are being kept around as
possible explanations, but neither is referred to as the only or the most
common way in which evolution occurs (Coyne 2009: 45). Moreover,
the theory of punctuated equilibrium by referring to the production
of difference in certain cases as an explosion throws the light back
upon the productive forces that create difference and variation in a way
Deleuze would find positive. Yet punctuated equilibrium is not wholly
Deleuzian, as it gives the concepts of species and evolution by natural
selection the same epistemological cachet Darwin did. As punctuated

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 437

equilibrium still functions under these concepts, it fails to focus on
processes of individuation and, according to Shostak, weakens natural
selection as a scientific tool:
The problem is that lumping everything under the aegis of natural selection
may yield something too attenuated to support a scientific hypothesis.
Possibly natural selection could account for equilibria, or stabilizing
selection, but it could not, at the same time, account for punctuations.
(Shostak 1999: 234)

Punctuated equilibrium loosens the restrictive representations that have

characterised evolution, but does not fully open evolution to new
possibilities and differences.
Next, the discovery regarding the amount of variation present in the
human genome is partially consonant with Deleuzian ontology inasmuch
as it problematises certain categorisations of individuals and emphasises
individualising elements and processes (such as those involved in the
production of the human genome and historical factors like language).
Categories like race, population and ethnicity which are unable to
capture the extant individual but only approach him or her are losing
their ability to explain genetic variation while individuating processes
within the human genome are becoming more useful and valuable to
scientists studying this discovery. This discovery is not fully consonant
as it makes no reference to the virtual, treating all the elements it
discusses as actual. While certain categories and evolutionary models are
destabilised, one is not returned to difference or chaos but to a different
part of the stratum. Mutation and variation receive a greater emphasis,
but they do not achieve an overturning of representation. Despite the
differences, these developments in evolutionary biology have led to an
increasing focus on difference, variation and heterogeneity, upsetting
well-established views on evolution and variation.
It is uncertain whether degree science as it is generally practised can
be made to accord with Deleuzian ontology given the divergent
projects of science and philosophy. The contrasting nature of What Is
Philosophy?s functive model of science in comparison with A Thousand
Plateaus major/minor science requires a nuanced and multifaceted
approach to this question. If we approach these developments with
the functive model, it is unlikely that science can ever be fully
reconciled with Deleuzian ontology, as both punctuated equilibrium
and the discovery of greater variation are based on studies and
experiments carried out under rigid methodological considerations,
which, for science, are crucial for determining validity. From a

438 Nathan Eckstrand

Deleuzian point of view, such considerations are interruptions that
limit, slow or constrain productive difference in order to produce truth
in a certain way as a result, their ability to properly conceptualise
difference is circumscribed. Additionally, while the original criticism
that Deleuze had of Darwin that he considers differences within
individuals, not individual difference has lost some of its efficacy
as more scientists focus on individualising processes and avoid rigid
categorical distinctions; it is not the case that scientists have abandoned
their use or dismissed them as illusory and fictitious. For scientists,
certain categories have proven salient through genetic research and, as
a result, have an ontological reality that Deleuze would reject, claiming
that their ontological reality appears only because of a certain image
of thought that cannot be sustained when one moves to a philosophy
of difference. A Deleuzian scientist as much as there can be one
within the functive model of What Is Philosophy? should place greater
emphasis on processes of individuation, and allow his or her models
for individuals and populations to remain open to new formations and
organisations (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 70). Shostaks alternative to
evolution, devolution, is formulated along these lines:
Devolution is the descent (collapse) of qualities upon successors through
assimilation into chimeras and parsing out into fragments. In its failure to
differentiate and equate, devolution exchanges differences for sameness
through exclusion and sameness for difference through repetition. (Shostak
1999: 151)

For Deleuze and Shostak, the fluid and discontinuous should be

emphasised over the rigid and articulated.
The major/minor science model of A Thousand Plateaus reveals a
way of aligning scientific study with Deleuzian ontology in a way that
What Is Philosophy? does not, as its conceptualising of the relationship
between the hylomorphic, striated model of major, or royal, science and
the smooth model of minor, nomadic science demonstrates how a science
that embraces difference and a science of theories and formulas can
interact. A key point that runs throughout A Thousand Plateaus is that
while the conceptual structures, or striations, that dominate traditional
ways of conceiving of being hide difference, they are not in themselves
bad, but are inevitable [phenomena] that [are] beneficial in many
respects and unfortunate in many others (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:
40) conceptual structures have strategic and tactical values as points
of reference but should not be misunderstood to fully articulate reality
itself. As discussed above, minor science does not add to major science

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 439

but vectors off from it, pursuing singularities and their connection
to traits of expression. In these terms both the theory of punctuated
equilibrium and the discovery of the amount of variation in the genome
have elements of minor and major science. Each can be considered in
part minor science inasmuch as both follow singularities not explainable
through the dominant model of evolution (for punctuated equilibrium
the singularity is the lack of fossil records, while the discovery of
the variation in the genome is the singularity). Scientists exploring
these discoveries work to realign evolutionary theory around the
singularities, in the process deterritorialising and reterritorialising the
field of evolutionary biology. As can be seen from the discovery of
variation, following a singularity can have repercussions far beyond
the field of biology itself, but also for philosophy, history, sociology
and elsewhere as such, it does not just deterritorialise but constitutes
and extends the territory itself (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 372). To
the degree that these developments in evolutionary biology undo and
shift the earlier model of evolution, they are analogous to the nomad
science of A Thousand Plateaus, and as such are not incongruous
with Deleuzes ontology. Yet while these developments function apart
from major science, much effort is made by the scientific establishment
to reincorporate them into major science; that is, to fit them into
the dominant conceptual framework as much as possible rather than
embrace and extend their difference. Proponents of major science have
trouble accepting these singularities as such, so in order to explain
the singularities in a manner amenable to them, the proponents try to
reinscribe them into the manufacture of major science. That this is the
case is apparent in the large portions of the papers announcing these
discoveries devoted to connecting them to the strata demarcated by
evolutionary biology. Deleuze and Guattari warn against doing this with
minor science, as the extent that ambulant procedures and processes
are necessarily tied to a striated space always formalized by royal
science which deprives them of their model is the extent to which
nomad science involves itself in striations again and makes it still
possible to cut the flow into layers (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 372).
The studies of the punctuated equilibrium and genetic diversity,
because of the endeavour made to develop them as concepts within
major science, do not truly function as minor science, but at most as
a quasi-minor science. They are connected with an apparatus that seeks
their description within a formula, and as a result they are not seen as
inseparable from a sensible intuition of variation (Deleuze and Guattari
1987: 369) as nomad science desires to be. While their opening to

440 Nathan Eckstrand

singularities and to a reinterpretation of theory pushes them towards
nomad science, there is no principle of difference at work in their
development only a contingent appearance of difference. For science
to include a nomadic approach along with its royal approach, and thus
in line with the ontology of A Thousand Plateaus, the study of these
developments would need to be more open to following singularities
and less interested in their being taken up by the strata of major
The manner in which biologists now approach understanding
evolution and the categorisation of individuals has more in common
with Deleuzes ontology than a classical Darwinian understanding
of evolution, but contemporary scientific methodology and modelling
techniques prevent evolutionary biology from being completely
Deleuzian. A completely Deleuzian evolutionary biology may not even
be a possibility, as in order to clarify what they have already determined,
scientists have had to rely on increasingly complex technologies and
scientific procedures (such as neuroimaging and PCR synthesis) which
can be developed and programmed only by using a certain image of
the human as a biological animal. Were scientists to try to let their
ideas develop along more open and flexible lines, it is questionable
whether they would be able to proceed along these increasingly
complex lines. The development of modern evolutionary biology seems
to require that scientists make use of certain representations before
they move to the processes that constitute the individual, as it is
only through a representation that some processes relevant to the
study of evolutionary biology can be uncovered and observed. At
most, were scientists to take the concept of nomad science seriously,
science could develop with an eye on difference and singularity and
with less of an institutionalised practice of reincorporating discoveries
into major science. Even Shostak, whose reinterpretation of evolution
does make a difference internal to scientific research, begins with a
space where differences are already partially represented rather than
with difference itself. Deleuzes characterisation of science in What
Is Philosophy? as slowing down the infinite chaos indicates that he
was aware of the challenges involved in getting science to embrace

V. Conclusion
In closing, it is worth taking note of what is at stake in this discussion of
the relationships between evolutionary biology and Deleuzian ontology.

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 441

Primarily, the encounter between the two calls into question our
conception of what the self is. Common means of identification be it
race, gender, geographic location or otherwise are problematised, as is
a unified understanding of ourselves. How we are able to relate ourselves
to others is a question that needs to be studied because of the ideas
put forth in this paper. Caught up in this sense of self are the fields
of ethics and politics as well, both of which often make use of ones
sense of identity in developing theories and principles. Yet as neither
Deleuzes nor evolutionary biologys discoveries entail the loss of the
self, but rather the removal of its sense of unification, the space that
needs to be theorised is not a radical departure from existent notions but
a substantial modification and resituating of current knowledges. Old
categories like race, ethnicity and ancestry that have shown themselves
to be without justification need to be discarded, and new categories
based on an individuals particular genesis highlighting traits strongly
influenced by genetic factors like physiology or the possibility that one
will express a certain condition need to be developed in line with the
variety of information that has been uncovered about the nature of the
self by science and philosophy.
It is likely that Deleuze would think positively of the above
developments in evolutionary biology, seeing a substantial shift towards
a philosophy of difference from where science was at in the time of
Darwin. Since that time, science has identified a number of sites and
mechanisms Darwin was unaware of such as DNA and patterns of
inheritance that have called into question both common classification
schemes and the ontological purity of the individual. The focus on
studying difference and variation has increased while the biological
models previously relied upon have been re-evaluated time and time
again. Still, the process of articulating biology through an understanding
of difference that is, a biology that has not institutionalised an
investigative model dominated primarily by conceptual structures
but has the tools to study flows and singularities as well is not
complete, as certain methodological and ontological assumptions about
the nature of science and its relation to the individual remain
which are still grounded in a philosophy of similitude, and some
recent technological advances seem conditional upon scientists not
completely transferring to a Deleuzian ontology. Yet despite these
apparent obstacles, it is possible that one day science will reach the
point of a philosophy of difference, as sciences open-ended nature
and willingness to question its assumptions are some of its greatest

442 Nathan Eckstrand

1. Deleuze articulates this philosophy in several ways throughout his oeuvre. For
the sake of consistency, this paper works primarily from the formulation it
receives in Difference and Repetition.
2. See iek 2012: 1920 and Badiou 2000: 69. iek claims there are two
versions of Deleuzes philosophy, and that only the first version frames ontology
in this way.
3. Manuel DeLanda opposes this interpretation, saying that there is no major
break between early and late Deleuzian ontology, but rather that the terminological distinctions and conceptual differences between works are slightly
displaced relative to one another but retain enough overlaps that they can be
meshed together as a heterogenous assemblage (DeLanda 2002: 202). This
reading of Deleuzes work ignores the importance of contemplation Deleuze
gives in Difference and Repetition to the constitution of the self, such as when
he says There is a self wherever furtive contemplation has been established,
whenever a contracting machine capable of drawing together a difference from
repetition functions somewhere (Deleuze 1994: 789). There is no corollary
to such contemplation in the equivalent concept that DeLanda identifies in
A Thousand Plateaus; rather, such constitutions occur apart from subjective
contemplation, as constitutions of intensities that occur within materiality
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 329).
4. Historically, it is worth noting that Darwin did not have a concrete definition
of species in his published works, and in fact commented on the problems of
defining the term on several occasions (including in On the Origin of Species and
The Descent of Man). His working definition for species was a classificatory
term provisionally given to a group for the purposes of convenience and which
emphasizes resemblance, but which does not differ substantially from variation
(Darwin 1909: 68).
5. It may even be more accurate to say that science, or at the very least a scientific
orientation, is part of what constitutes the entities in the world. This would
make Difference and Repetition more akin to the later Deleuze, but it is
debatable whether or not the system of Difference and Repetition can sustain
that interpretation.
6. Material, for Deleuze, has three fundamental characteristics: it is molecularised,
it has a relation to forces to be harnessed, and it is defined by the operations
of consistency applied to it (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 345). There is no such
thing as base substantiality, as material for Deleuze has relations, trajectories
and speeds. It thus cannot be defined according to perfunctory, automatic rules.
7. Importantly, Deleuze is joined in this view by numerous evolutionary biologists
who also see knowledge of DNA and the genome being used to apply determination inappropriately, leading to reductionism. For a good example, of this
view, see Lewontin 1991.
8. Several scientific discoveries support this critique of mechanistic conceptions of
life. Francis Jacobs The Logic of Life describes the irreducible role of difference
and disparity in transcriptions of genetic codes vital to the functioning of
evolution (Jacobs 1974: 2902), while Shostak describes research that shows
the possibility of conceiving of life as plural and open rather than singular and
determined (Shostak 1999: 151).

Deleuze, Darwin and the Categorisation of Life 443

Ansell-Pearson, Keith (1999) Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of
Deleuze, New York and London: Routledge.
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Jonathan Barnes, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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F. Collier and Son.
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Deleuze, Gilles (2004) Bergsons Conception of Difference, in Desert Islands and
Other Texts 19531974, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
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Schizophrenia, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
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Jacobs, Francis (1974) The Logic of Life, New York: Pantheon.
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Livingstone, Frank and Theodosius Dobzhansky (1962) On the Non-Existence of
Human Races, Current Anthropology, 3:3, pp. 27981.
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to Human Genome Variation, Nature Genetics Supplement, 36:11, pp. S5S7.
Shostak, Stanley (1999) Evolution of Sameness and Difference: Perspectives on the
Human Genome Project. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.
Simondon, Gilbert (1992) The Genesis of the Individual, in Jonathan Crary and
Sanford Kwinter (eds), Incorporations, Brooklyn: Zone Books.
Tishkoff, Sara and Kenneth Kidd (2004) Implications of Biogeography of Human
Populations for Race and Medicine, Nature Genetics Supplement, 36:11,
pp. S21S27.
Tishkoff, Sara, Floyd A. Reed, Franoise R. Friedlaender, Christopher Ehret, Alessia
Ranciaro, Alain Froment, Jibril B. Hirbo, Agnes A. Awomoyi, Jean-Marie Bodo,
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444 Nathan Eckstrand

A. Omar, Kweli Powell, Gideon S. Pretorius, Michael W. Smith, Mahamadou
A. Thera, Charles Wambebe, James L. Weber, and Scott M. Williams (2009)
The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans, Science,
324:5930, pp. 103544.
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between Kant and Deleuze, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
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Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy, 13:2, pp. 2554.
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The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum

Charles Mayell

The University of Liverpool

Deleuze adopts Nietzsches manifesto for an overturning of Platonism.
However, the consensus view is that Deleuzes project is best understood
as a revision not a repudiation of Platonism. Deleuzes engagement
with Platonism centres on The Sophist. Out of Platos concept of
phantasm, Deleuze fashions a new concept: simulacrum. In Difference
and Repetition, simulacra are invited to rise and affirm their rights; and
yet Deleuze later abandons the concept entirely. Why? Although suitable
for the purposes of critique, it became otiose in wider applications. More
generally, and against the consensus view, I argue that the trajectory of
the concept of the simulacrum is emblematic of Deleuzes anti-Platonism.
Keywords: Plato, Sophist, Aristotle, image, simulacrum, multiplicity

I. A Reversal that Changes Everything

Deleuzes ambition in his 1968 masterwork Difference and Repetition
is To rescue difference from its maledictory state (Deleuze 2001: 29).
Against the backdrop of a failed classical philosophy of difference,
he marks out a new domain of ontological difference that is prior to
identity. Integral to this project, it seems, is the creation of the concept
of simulacrum. Simulacrum can simply mean an image or a semblance.
Daniel W. Smith explains that it is the Latin term for statue or idol,
and translates the Greek phantasma (Smith 2006a: 89). However,
Deleuze gives the term a new definition and a special status within
the radical philosophy of difference: Simulacra are those systems in
which different relates to different by means of difference itself (Deleuze
2001: 299). And yet by 1993, Deleuze muses, as if only with the benefit
Deleuze Studies 8.4 (2014): 445469
DOI: 10.3366/dls.2014.0165
Edinburgh University Press

446 Charles Mayell

of hindsight, It seems to me that I have completely abandoned the
notion of the simulacrum (Deleuze 1993: 8, cited in Smith 2006a:
116). Even more startlingly, In his . . . Preface to . . . Clet-Martins
book . . . Deleuze states that the concept of simulacrum was never an
essential part of his philosophy (Roffe 2005: 250).
When, echoing Nietzsche, Deleuze announces, The task of modern
philosophy has been defined: to overturn Platonism, we may understand
this as a necessary condition for rescuing difference (Deleuze 2001:
59). However, the translation of renversement du platonisme has
been a bone of contention (Deleuze 1968: 82). Warning of a fatal
misunderstanding, James Williams points out that the primary sense of
renversement is reversing and that this is the most apposite translation
(Williams 2003: 79). I will not disagree but dispute where that leaves us.
In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze puts the assertion made in Difference
and Repetition into the question that we now want to ask: What does it
mean to reverse Platonism?(Deleuze 2003: 253). Although Deleuzes
answer only raises more questions, it explicitly links reversed Platonism
with simulacra: to reverse Platonism means to make the simulacra
rise and to affirm their rights among icons and copies (262).
The secondary literature on reversed Platonism is well-trodden ground
which I will not re-tread here.1 No single or simple interpretation
emerges but on one point there is a consensus. According to Williams,
by reversing Platonism, Deleuze aims only to tweak the Platonic
structure in order to avoid an error with severe consequences with
regard to difference (Williams 2003: 79). If tweaking means slightly
revising, this takes us uncomfortably close to validating Alain Badious
provocative complaint that, far from overturning Platonism, Deleuze has
only produced a Platonism with a different accentuation (Badiou 2000:
26). Smith, like Williams, is keen to emphasise that the issue is structural
and reversal (or inversion) is very far from repudiation:
Far from refusing Platonism in its entirety . . . Deleuzes inverted Platonism
retrieves almost every aspect of the Platonic project . . . Deleuzes inverted
Platonism can . . . be seen as a rejuvenated and even a completed Platonism.
(Smith 2006a: 105)

This is the view against which I argue.

What is a Platonic structure? Paul Pattons adumbration of the theory
of Ideas or Forms would probably pass muster as the standard account:
[Platonism is] the distinction between the realm of Ideas or that which
truly is, and the sensuous realm of relative nonbeing or mere appearance
(Patton 1994: 144). So, a Platonic structure has two tiers. However,

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


Deleuze invariably wants to go one step beyond any standard account,

and in this case, several steps. First, it is insufficient to define Platonism
by reference to the distinction between essence and appearance. The
primary distinction which Plato rigorously establishes is the one between
the model and the copy (Deleuze 2001: 264). Plato is the father of
Western philosophy only because he is the creator of the malign concept
of representation:
Platonism . . . founds the entire domain that philosophy will later recognize
as its own: the domain of representation filled by copies-icons . . . defined by
an intrinsic relation to the model or foundation . . . To the pure identity of
the model or original there corresponds an exemplary similitude; to the pure
resemblance of the copy there corresponds the similitude called imitative.
(Deleuze 2003: 259)

Representation is wholly at variance with the new domain of difference

that Deleuze wishes to inaugurate: We propose to think difference in
itself independently of the forms of representation which reduce it to the
Same (Deleuze 2001: xix).
Let us set the supposed structural affinity between Deleuzianism and
Platonism alongside the following passage:
Consider the two propositions: only that which is alike differs; and only
differences are alike. The first formula posits resemblance as the condition
of difference . . . According to the other formula, by contrast, resemblance,
identity . . . can no longer be considered anything but effects, the products
of a primary difference . . . The question is whether these two formulae are
simply two manners of speaking which do not change things very much, or
whether they apply to two completely different systems . . . one of which is
capable of changing everything. (Deleuze 2001: 11617)

The first formula privileges resemblance: the hallmark of Platonism.

In choosing the second formula, Deleuze reverses the priority normally
given to identity over difference but in so doing intends to leave nothing
in its original place. It is a reversal that changes everything.

II. The Nature of Images

As we have seen, Deleuze baulks at defining Platonism in terms of the
two-tiered distinction between essence and appearance, and proposes
instead the distinction between model and copy. However, this too turns
out to be insufficient. To follow in Deleuzes footsteps to the source of
Platonism, we need to consider the complications that flow from Platos
treatment of the nature of images. In the Republic, using the example of

448 Charles Mayell

a bed, Socrates adds a third tier to the Platonic structure when he posits
three kinds of beds. The first is in nature a bed, and . . . a god makes
it . . . The second is the work of a carpenter . . . And the third is the one
the painter makes (Plato 1997: 1201; 597). Socrates makes it clear that
the god and the craftsman can both be said to be the maker of a bed.
The painter, however, is only an imitator of what the others make.
Deleuze notes how, in the Sophist, this Platonic structure is elaborated
again, turning three tiers into four, by another distinction within the tier
of imitation: Plato divides in two the domain of images-idols: on the one
hand there are copies-icons, on the other there are simulacra-phantasms
(Deleuze 2003: 256). The thrust of Platos argument runs:
Visitor: One type of imitation . . . is . . . likeness-making. Thats . . . whenever
someone produces an imitation by keeping to the proportions of length,
breadth, and depth of his model, and also by keeping to the appropriate
colours . . .
Theaetetus: But dont all imitators try to do that?
Visitor: Not the ones who sculpt or draw very large works. If they
reproduced the true proportions of their beautiful subjects . . . the upper parts
would appear smaller than they should, and the lower parts would appear
larger, because we see the upper parts from farther away and the lower
parts from closer . . . What are we going to call something that appears to
be like a beautiful thing, but only because its seen from a viewpoint . . . ?
Wouldnt appearance-making be the right thing to call expertise in producing
appearances that arent likenesses? (Plato 1997: 256; 235d236c)

Stepping beyond the model and the copy, Deleuze now, therefore,
defines Platonism by reference to:
[the] more profound distinction . . . between the copy itself and the phantasm.
It is clear that Plato distinguishes, and even opposes, models and copies only
in order to obtain a selective criterion with which to separate copies and
simulacra, the former founded upon their relation to the model while the
latter are disqualified because they fail both the test of the copy and the
requirements of the model. (Deleuze 2001: 265)

Deleuze and Guattari defer to Jean-Pierre Vernants analysis of the

origins of Greek thought (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 4; see n. 4).
Yet Vernant flatly contradicts the crux of Deleuzes argument: The
opposition Plato establishes at Sophist 235de between two types of
[images] cannot have any fundamental import (Vernant 1991:
169). He notes that Plato, having made the distinction between icon and
phantasm, only a little later runs the two back together again: those
things . . . which you [Theaetetus] thought you should call by the one

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


name, copy, to cover them all (Plato 1997: 260; 240a). Stanley Rosen
also notices that the initial distinction between icons and fantasms is
blurred at crucial points (Rosen 1983: 151). For Vernant, Platos aim is
only to establish an opposition between demiurgic activity, on the one
hand, and mimetic [imitative] activity on the other (Vernant 1991: 170).
Divine demiurges have populated the natural world with plants and
animals and so forth. Human craftsmen lack true knowledge of the Idea
but by virtue of what Plato, in the Republic, calls right opinion, make
beds that one can actually sleep on and houses that one can actually live
in (Plato 1997: 1206; 601e). By contrast, Imitation is far removed from
the truth, for it touches only a small part of each thing and a part that is
itself only an image (1202; 598b).
So in Vernants analysis, the general lesson given in the Republic
applies with equal force to the distinction made in the Sophist:
The painters bed, whether it is a faithful copy (eikon)
. . . or whether it
is a simulacrum (phantasma) intended to produce an effect of trompeloeil . . . is . . . in both cases an imitation of a visible bed produced by the
artisan; it is not an imitation of . . . the idea . . . of the bed. (Vernant 1991:

In a rather jumbled footnote, Vernant seems to include Deleuze among

those who claim there was a mimeticism of Forms that Plato would have
admitted as both possible and desirable in the domain of art (Vernant
1991: 169; n. 6). This is, possibly, implicit in Deleuzes claim that:
If copies or icons are good images . . . it is because they are endowed with
resemblance. But resemblance . . . goes less from one thing to another than
from one thing to an Idea, since it is the Idea which comprehends the
relations and proportions constitutive of the internal essence . . . The copy
truly resembles something only to the degree that it resembles the Idea of
that thing. (Deleuze 2003: 257)

Be that as it may, it is clear that Deleuzes more substantial point

is to ask us to consider now the . . . simulacra. That to which they
pretend . . . they pretend to underhandedly . . . without passing through
the Idea. And in the parallel passage in Difference and Repetition,
after first clarifying that the same . . . characterises the Idea as the thing
itself, he goes on, The whole of Platonism . . . is dominated by the idea
of drawing a distinction between the thing itself and the simulacra
(Deleuze 2001: 66). Smith defends Deleuze against Vernants objection
by claiming that Vernant nonetheless supports the thrust of Deleuzes
reading when he says that the problem of the Sophist is to articulate
what an image is, not in its seeming but in its being . . . the being of

450 Charles Mayell

semblance (Smith 2006a: 119; n. 31). But if Vernant is right and, for
Plato, the domains of the Idea and the Image (be it icon or phantasm)
are fundamentally disconnected, the platform for Deleuzes critique of
Platonism seems rather fragile.
Which is not to say that Vernants objection carries all before it. For
example, it can be argued that the use of the Theory of Forms in the
particular passage of the Republic upon which Vernant relies
[Is itself] in some respects anomalous . . . Plato has a god bring Forms into
existence, though elsewhere they exist eternally and no one creates them.
Forms are often thought to be paradigms existing in nature, which perhaps
makes it puzzling how there could be Forms of man-made objects such as a
bed (as opposed to the Forms of Justice, Beauty . . . ) For someone seeking a
coherent interpretation of Platos philosophy, this passage . . . may raise more
puzzles than it solves. (Janaway 2009: 392)

So, perhaps Deleuzes claim can evade Vernants objection entirely.

Deleuze argues that Plato distinguishes, and even opposes, models and
copies only in order to obtain a selective criterion with which to separate
copies and simulacra. Deleuze is, in effect, claiming that Platonism is not
founded on the Theory of Forms; it is instead the Theory of Forms that is
founded on the distinction between icons and simulacra. Ideas or Forms
are only a downstream effect, a consequence of Platos more covert
concerns. Hence, Deleuze and Guattari can complain: Plato said that
Ideas must be contemplated, but first of all he had to create the concept
of Idea (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 6). Smith gestures towards a similar
reading when he says that In Deleuzes interpretation, Platos singularity
lies in a delicate operation of sorting or selection that precedes the
discovery of the Idea (Smith 2006a: 91). On this view, Platos real
concerns ultimately find their best expression in the distinction between
two kinds of image. If that is the case, Deleuze can still coherently claim
that the distinction between images is the fulcrum of Platonism. Whether
it is the case, comes down to an analysis of Platos motives.

III. Platos Motives

Deleuze is not alone in reading the Sophist as an experimental Platonism
that is not necessarily consistent with the Republic.2 More importantly,
Deleuzes readings in the history of philosophy are always partisan and
creative, always a matter of looking through the cracks. Returning to
the question of what it means to reverse Platonism, Deleuze tells us that
to reverse Platonism must mean to bring . . . [its] motivation out into the

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


light of day, to track it down the way Plato tracks down the Sophist
(Deleuze 2003: 253).3 So, if reverse is the right word to use, it may be
because the reversal which is at stake is what we might now call reverse
engineering: taking an existing product or application apart and finding
how it works, reducing it to formula, tracking it back to the machine
code, as it were. Hence, Deleuze takes yet another step in search of the
motive power of Platonism. Before following, let us notice that if Deleuze
finds no sympathy with Platos motives, then reversing Platonism is a
repudiation of it.
According to Deleuze,
The motive of the theory of Ideas must be sought in a will to select and
to choose. It is a question of making a difference, of distinguishing the
thing itself from its images, the original from the copy, the model from the
simulacrum . . . The Platonic project comes to light only when we turn back
to the method of division. (Deleuze 2003: 253)

The following questions are supposed to be rhetorical:

Far from being one dialectical procedure among others . . . is not division the
one which replaces all the other procedures from the moment it appears,
and gathers up all the dialectical power in favour of a genuine philosophy
of difference? Is it not simultaneously the measure of both Platonism and the
possibility of overturning Platonism? (Deleuze 2001: 59)

I still feel in need of an answer. Why does division deserve this status?
Deleuze does not provide an answer until his final summing up:
In [Platos] case . . . a moral motivation in all its purity is avowed: the will to
eliminate simulacra or phantasms has no motivation apart from the moral.
What is condemned in the figure of the simulacra is the state of free, oceanic
differences. (Deleuze 2001: 265)

Ultimately then, behind the method of division lies Platos will to

separate the sheep of identity/sameness (the originals and icons) from
the goats of pure difference (the simulacra). Deleuze makes it clear that
Platos project is inimical to his own.
According to Deleuze, Platos dialectical method for achieving his
moral ends comprises four figures: . . . the selection of difference, the
installation of a mythic circle, the establishment of a foundation, and
the position of a questionproblem complex (Deleuze 2001: 66). This
emphasis on method and structure supports Williams case for arguing
that reversal is not repudiation but revision:
Each of the figures of the Platonic structure corresponds to an aspect of
Deleuzes own work . . . Thus, in parallel to Platos structure . . . we find

452 Charles Mayell

Deleuzes structure of selection through affirmation or expression, of eternal
return and dramatisation, of ideas as multiplicities of pure differences and
problems. (Williams 2003: 80, 82)

Williams goes on to concede: That this is only a parallel and not an exact
correspondence can be explained through Deleuzes main criticism of
Plato. For Deleuze, ideas do not have an identity they are multiplicities
of pure differences (Williams 2003: 82). What strikes me about the
above elements is how stratospherically far they take us from Plato:
it is not Platos name that resonates in the background but Nietzsche
(affirmation, eternal return and dramatisation), Spinoza (expression),
Bergson (multiplicities) and Kant (ideas and problems).
What is more, the four figures of the Platonic dialectic are only that
because Deleuze told us that they were in the first place. Contrast it, for
example, with what has come to be called Platos method of hypothesis:

First, it consists of the process of identifying a hypothesis such that its truth
is necessary and sufficient for a determinate answer to the question under
consideration . . . The second process is to determine whether the hypothesis
in question is true. (Benson 2009: 88)

Is there not already a suspicion that Deleuze has created a Platonic

dialectic in his own image? If so, it is not particularly surprising that
Williams should be able to map elements of Deleuzes project onto it.
Moreover, quite apart from the supposed Platonic dialectic, there is the
problem of the supposed Deleuzian dialectic. Constructing a Deleuzian
dialectic of any sort flies in the face of the fact, as Ian Buchanan puts
it, that Deleuze does not have any truck with dialectics in general
(Buchanan 2000: 192). Insofar as Buchanan then goes on to construct a
Deleuzian dialectic, it is notable that it is closer to Adorno than to Plato.
Williams himself offers yet another version of a Deleuzian dialectic: [1]
Critique; [2] The reciprocal search for actual and virtual conditions;
[3] The search for completeness in terms of reasons determined by
conditions; [4] The dice throw, or creative and destructive forgetting
(Williams 2003: 19). My point is that, when freed from the factitious
constraint of a Platonic context, the Deleuzian dialectic, if there is one,
turns out to be remote from the supposed four figures of the Platonic
dialectic; that being said, I will now track Deleuzes account of those
four figures.

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


IV. The Selection of Difference

Deleuzes grand project is to rescue difference. Accordingly, the first
substantive chapter of Difference and Repetition is entitled Difference
in Itself. If reversing Platonism involves bringing its motivation to light,
and if that motivation is a will to select or choose, then one must be
clear about the nature of the concept of difference within which one is
operating. If one is going to try to discriminate between true images
(icons) and false ones (simulacra), how does one tell the difference,
without knowing what makes a difference in the first place? Deleuze
goes on to write an alternative history of Western philosophy from the
perspective of a concept of difference; a history that starts with Aristotle
and ends with Plato, having gone via Hegel and Leibniz (Deleuze 2001:
3068). This bizarre trajectory can only be justified by the fact that, for
a reason yet to be determined, Deleuze wants to end with Plato. But
for the moment, let us note that Deleuzes reading of Plato is set in the
context of his reading of Aristotle.
It is not fanciful of Deleuze to attribute a concept of difference
to Aristotle: Aristotle says: there is a difference which is at once
the greatest and the most perfect (Deleuze 2001: 30); and references
Metaphysics X (Deleuze 2001: 308; n. 2). Thus Aristotle lends his
huge authority to Deleuzes project. Aristotle interprets the search for
the greatest difference in terms of seeking the maximum scope, or
stretch, of difference. He seeks a perfect difference. Deleuzes critique of
Aristotles concept of difference operates at three levels: genus; species;
and the individual. Deleuze, like Aristotle, begins in the middle. Aristotle
is here accused of a confusion disastrous for the entire philosophy
of difference: assigning a distinctive concept of difference is confused
with the inscription of difference within concepts in general (Deleuze
2001: 32). What characterises Aristotles concept of specific difference
is that two terms differ when they are other, not in themselves, but in
something else, thus when they also agree in something else (Deleuze
2001: 30). Aristotle operates within the horizontal plane, distinguishing
one species from another species (e.g., bird from man) by their unique
differentiating features (see Widder 2001: 439). But by Aristotles
account, for two things to differ at all, they must first be gathered
under a higher overarching conceptual identity (e.g., animal). Identity
is prior to difference; and it is Aristotles deference to identity that is the
target of Deleuzes negative critique: only in relation to the supposed
identity of a concept is specific difference called the greatest (Deleuze
2001: 31).

454 Charles Mayell

Damned as the enemy of difference, Aristotle is also, however,
recognised as its friend. Deleuze warms to the manner in which,
for Aristotle, difference can only operate over a certain range. Once
over-stretched, difference breaks and assumes a different nature;
once it escapes the domain of identity, it tends to become simple
otherness . . . established between uncombinable objects (Deleuze 2001:
30). Aristotle is the fair-weather friend of difference because for
Aristotle, difference is a means of connection not disconnection. This
explains why Williams, for example, can distil out of Difference and
Repetition the ethical principle that: It is best for our actions to
connect with all things that have brought them about and that they
can bring about (Williams 2003: 5). It is a principle that has a
future in Deleuzianism: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any
point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be
(Deleuze and Guattari 2002: 7). In Aristotles philosophy, as much as in
Platos, Deleuze looks for points of contact with his own philosophy of
Deleuzes history of the philosophy of difference moves on to Hegel
and Leibniz; it is a catalogue of errors, albeit that Leibniz emerges
with the most credit of anyone (even if we included Plato). So, why
does Deleuze want to end with Plato? Plato, like Aristotle, turns out
to be not only villain but also hero; or more precisely, he could have
been the hero. Deleuze ends his history of difference with Platonism
because here Deleuze claims to detect the first glimmer of the gold that
is pure difference. Difference has, we are told, been placed under cruel
constraint by Aristotle and Hegel: like an animal in the process of being
tamed, whose final resistant movements bear witness . . . to a nature soon
to be lost . . . With Plato [however] the issue is still in doubt (Deleuze
2001: 59). Deleuzes support for this assertion lies in his analysis of the
Deleuzes critique of Plato begins by looking back to Aristotle: Our
mistake lies in trying to understand Platonic division on the basis of
Aristotelian requirements. According to Aristotle, it is a question of
dividing a genus into opposing species (Deleuze 2001: 59). Rosen
concurs that diaeresis, or the division and collection in accordance with
kinds [is] a method that will play an important role in the Sophist
(Rosen 1983: 2). Whether Plato is, in fact, collecting in accordance
with kinds is precisely the issue that Deleuze will dispute. Were one to
orientate the Sophist relative to Aristotles method, one might say that
the parties were setting out to differentiate the species sophist from
that of statesman and philosopher, each of which is part of some

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


larger genus. Deleuze asks an apparently incongruous question: [Plato]

divide[s] art into arts of production and arts of acquisition: but then why
is fishing among the arts of acquisition? (Deleuze 2001: 59).
The relevance of this question is partly explained by the fact that
before beginning the serious business of tracking down the nature of the
sophist himself, the parties to the dialogue agree to try out the method of
division on an angler . . . recognizable to everybody, but not worth being
too serious about (Plato 1997: 239; 218e). Rosen sees more Platonic
irony at work here than Deleuze, and accordingly offers yet another
definition of Platonism:
Platonism may be equated . . . with the thesis that human beings in general,
and philosophers in particular, have access to the true nature of things.
Platonism in this sense asserts that vision of pure form is the acquisition,
not the production, of truth. (Rosen 1983: 14)

So, Platos otherwise rather capricious-sounding choice to begin

the divisions by dividing acquisition and production is already
philosophically loaded. Rosen, like Vernant, argues that, for Plato,
Images in general are and are not and are thus all [i.e., icons as
well as phantasms] associated with non-being and falsehood (Rosen
1983: 152). And yet the crucial distinction between the acquisition of
truth and the production of truth still seems to be bubbling underneath
the Platonic distinction between images; Rosen goes on: An accurate
image [an icon] is not false in the same sense as an inaccurate image [a
phantasm]. The latter deceives, whereas the former does not, concerning
the proportions of the original (152). Plato surely intends us to align the
maker of accurate images with the philosopher, who acquires the truth,
ugly though it might seem, and the maker of beautiful but inaccurate
images with the sophist, who produces a truth tailored to human
desires and matching a distorted human perspective.
The Visitor asks Theaetetus If every expertise falls under acquisition
or production . . . which one shall we put angling in?; and Theaetetus
answers, Acquisition, obviously (Plato 1997: 239; 219d). So, to go back
to the point of Deleuzes earlier question, Deleuze is, in effect, asking,
why is it obvious? But this, in turn, is only an echo of Aristotles famous
critique of Platos method: According to Aristotle . . . [the method of
division] not only lacks reason by itself, it lacks a reason in terms of
which we could decide whether something falls into one species rather
than another (Deleuze 2001: 59). Aristotle complains that it is simply
assumed that it does. To see Aristotles point we might consider how
the method is applied once matters do become serious. After the practice

456 Charles Mayell

session, the Visitor and Theaetetus go on to make five different episodes
of division. At the end of each of the divisions they locate the sophist.
Taking the first division as an example, it is agreed that the sophist
and the angler are both hunters. Hunting is divided into two: one for
land animals and one for swimming animals (Plato 1997: 242; 221e).
They choose to follow the branch devoted to land animals because they
already know that is where the sophist is to be found. This branch is
further divided into Tame things and wild ones (222b). After some
discussion as to whether human beings are wild or tame, they settle on
tame; and they choose that branch of the division because they know
that is where the sophist is to be found, no other reason is offered. And
so on and so on, down and down.
We see, therefore, the wisdom of Deleuzes insight that unlike
Aristotle, The essence of division does not appear in its breadth, in
the determination of the species of a genus, but in its depth, in the
selection of the lineage (Deleuze 2003: 254). Plato is drawing a family
tree: Difference is not between species . . . but entirely on one side,
within the chosen line of descent: there are no longer contraries within
a single genus but pure and impure, good and bad (Deleuze 2001:
60). For Deleuze, Aristotles objection is a cause for celebration not
Aristotle . . . saw what is irreplaceable in Platonism, even though he made it
precisely the basis of a criticism of Plato: the dialectic of difference has its
own method division but this operates without mediation, without middle
term or reason; it acts in the immediate and is inspired by Ideas. (Deleuze
2001: 59)

This is how Plato makes a difference in contrast to how Aristotle

does it.
For reasons that will become plain in a moment, Deleuzes analysis
shifts at this point, from the Sophist to the Statesman:
The statesman is defined as the one who knows the pastoral care of men
but many introduce themselves by saying I am the true shepherd of men,
including merchants, farmers, bakers, as well as athletes and the entire
medical profession. (Deleuze 2001: 60)

These people seem to have nothing to do with one another. The Platonic
process seems to have produced a muddle but, according to Deleuze, this
is because we are thinking too much like Aristotle. According to Deleuze,
the method of division has nothing to do with species: The meaning and
the goal of the method of division is [not the analysis of species among

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


a larger genus but] the selection among rivals, the testing of claimants
(Deleuze 2001: 60).
What is germane for my general purposes, and has special relevance
in the context of the selection of difference, is that, even if Deleuze
has rescued Plato from Aristotles objection, it is not so as to give
Platonism a stake in the modern philosophy of difference. Platos
vertically orientated branching structure is an example of what Deleuze
and Guattari will come to describe as arborescent: Arborescent systems
are hierarchical systems . . . [in which] an individual has only one
active neighbour, his or her hierarchical superior . . . The channels of
transmission are preestablished (Deleuze and Guattari 2002: 16). Far
from it being the case that, despite wide differences in philosophical
content, there are, nonetheless, structural affinities between Deleuze
and Plato, the iconic Platonic structure, the tree, is entirely inimical to
Deleuzes project: Were tired of trees . . . Theyve made us suffer too
much (15). The authors place their modern schema in sharp opposition:
Multiplicities are rhizomatic, and expose arborescent pseudomultiplicities for
what they are . . . An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of
a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections.
There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a
structure, tree, or root. (Deleuze and Guattari 2002: 8)

The concept of multiplicity, with its components of rhizome and

assemblage, will fill the place left by simulacra.

V. The Installation of a Mythic Circle

I left Plato in an apparent muddle. Deleuze rightly reflects the readers
great surprise when the way out of it comes by introducing a myth
(Deleuze 2001: 60). The role of the myth in Deleuzes reading of Plato
can be expressed more clearly in the context of the Phaedrus. Here the
target is the lover: the one who has lost his head, has gone mad. Should
he/she still enjoy our favour? According to Platos voicing of Socrates,
it would be an easy question to answer if madness were bad, pure and
simple; but in fact the best things we have come from madness when it is
given as a gift of the god (Plato 1997: 522; 244a). Plato tells a complex
story about the origin and nature of souls. Souls chase the chariots of
the gods around a circuit, beyond the rim of which lies the plain where
truth stands: the realm of the Ideas or Forms. All the souls strain to
keep pace with the gods so as to be able to see what lies there (526;
248cd). For Deleuze, this allows Plato to determine which lover,

458 Charles Mayell

poet, priest, soothsayer or philosopher is elected to participation in
reminiscence . . . : which is the true claimant, the true participant, and
in what order the others follow (Deleuze 2001: 61). How exactly?
Williams advises: the myth tells of how things were originally divided
and it allows that division to return later (Williams 2003: 81). By
originally, I gather we are to understand an archetype in the manner
of Mircea Eliades thesis with regard to the structure of Platonism:
reality is acquired solely through repetition or participation; everything
which lacks an exemplary model is meaningless i.e., it lacks reality
(Eliade 1989: 34). Such a philosophy of static identity clearly has no
Deleuzian future. Indeed, Williams point is only that a modern dynamic
Deleuzian concept of the Idea will, as we shall see, come to occupy a
similar position in an overall structure. Deleuze emphasises that even if
the Platonic Idea allows a return, of some kind, Plato is certainly not a
protagonist of eternal return (Deleuze 2001: 61). Certainly not, because
Deleuze is invoking his radical reading of Nietzsche:
We misinterpret the . . . eternal return if we understand it as return of
the same. It is not being that returns but rather the returning itself that
constitutes being insofar as it is affirmed of becoming and of that which
passes. (Deleuze 1983: 48)

Deleuze remains loyal to the doctrine of the eternal return and yet
abandons the concept of the simulacrum. This presents a problem
because Deleuze explicitly connects the eternal return with the concept
of the simulacrum: What . . . is the content of this third time . . . What is
this content which is affected . . . by the eternal return? . . . it is a question
of simulacra, and simulacra alone (Deleuze 2001: 299). In his book on
Deleuzes philosophy of time, Williams has no doubt that The content
of eternal return is series and simulacra (Williams 2011: 127). I am
arguing that Deleuze abandons the concept of the simulacrum because
it becomes otiose. However, if the concept of the simulacrum includes
a component of novelty, without which we cannot drive the eternal
return, my argument is stopped dead in its tracks. In a seminal article
Smith asks: What are the conditions of the new that one finds laid
out in Gilles Deleuzes philosophy? (Smith 2007: 1). The concept of
the simulacrum finds no place in his reply. Instead we find: When the
virtual is actualised, it differentiates itself, it produces the new (17). I,
therefore, agree with Smith, who concludes, in the wake of Deleuzes
abandonment of the concept of the simulacrum, that The process of
simulation is more properly characterized as the process of actualization
(or even more precisely, the complex process of different/ciation)

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


(Smith 2006a: 116). If this is all the conceptual machinery we need for
radical novelty, I may now take up again Deleuzes critique of Plato.
We have seen that Deleuze claims to detect in the dialogues of
division a repeated four-fold pattern, the third element of which is the
invocation of a myth. However, this scheme is immediately threatened
(and this explains the earlier mentioned shift to the Statesman): It will
be objected that . . . the Sophist, presents no such myth (Deleuze 2001:
61).4 Deleuze replies that this is because in this text, by a paradoxical
utilization of the method, a counter-utilization, Plato proposes to isolate
the false claimant par excellence, the one who lays claim to everything,
without any right: the sophist. Smith notes how
Deleuze distinguishes between two spatial dimensions in Platos thought. The
dialogues of the Phaedrus and the Statesman move upward toward the true
lover or the true statesman, which are legitimated by their resemblance to
the pure model . . . Platonic irony is, in this sense, a technique of ascent. (Smith
2006a: 98)

In Deleuzes own words: The popular and technical images of the

philosopher seem to have been set by Platonism: the philosopher is
a being of ascents (Deleuze 2003: 127). Whereas, The Sophist, by
contrast, follows a descending movement . . . a technique of descent
(Smith 2006a: 98). Rosen, in turn, reflects that We are not simply
engaged in the task of defining a pure form . . . We are hunting men
(Rosen 1983: 84). The distinction between the directions of the dialogues
adds lustre to Deleuzes claim that, at the nadir of the descent, Plato
himself is the first to toy with a radical anti-Platonism: It may be
that the end of the Sophist contains the most extraordinary adventure
of Platonism: as a consequence of searching in the direction of the
simulacrum and of leaning over its abyss (Deleuze 2003: 256).
Rosen quotes, initially with approval, Deleuzes general claim that In
Plato, an obscure debate is carried out in the depths of things, between
that which submits to the action of the Idea and that which escapes this
action (copies and simulacra) (Deleuze 2003: 7, cited in Rosen 1983:
172). However, Rosen objects that Deleuze oversimplifies in saying that
the copy is an image endowed with resemblance; the simulacrum is an
image without resemblance (Rosen 1983: 172, citing Deleuze 2003:
257). To follow Rosens objection we need to recall the paradigm of
monumental statuary or huge paintings that is played out in the Sophist.
Deleuze seems to be content to remain within this paradigm of the
observer of an optical image:

460 Charles Mayell

Plato specifies how this nonproductive effect is obtained: the simulacrum
implies huge dimensions, depths and distances that the observer cannot
master. It is precisely because he cannot master them that he experiences an
impression of resemblance. This simulacrum includes the differential point of
view . . . which is transformed and deformed by his point of view. (Deleuze
2003: 258)

But Rosen argues, An image that does not resemble X cannot be an

image of X. Despite its dissymmetry, the fantasm looks like the
original to the viewer (Rosen 1983: 1723). From the observers point
of view, the huge statue has the look of a human being: it is, therefore,
contrary to Deleuzes claim, an image that resembles something, namely
that look that we recognise as human.
Rosens objection is reasonable, but is it fatal to Deleuzes argument?
To oversimplify is not the same as being wrong. But perhaps the
more accurate accusation, in this context, is exaggeration rather than
oversimplification. Deleuze can quite coherently concede the existence
of the phenomenon of resemblance, indeed at times he does. All that he
needs to deny is that resemblance is fundamental. Beyond that, perhaps
Rosens objection would be fatal, if it were to be the case that one could
not, even in principle, make sense of an image without resemblance.
And yet Rosen, earlier, manages to make sense of it himself. He notes
how the Visitor is happy to shift the paradigm away from the optical,
and towards the discursive, by the dramatic device of speculating that
the sophist will sometimes seem to you [Theaetetus] to have his eyes
shut, or else not to have any eyes at all (Plato 1997: 260; 239e). Now,
a true statement, about a tree, for example, does not look like a tree.
Yet Rosen concludes that, for the Stranger, true statements are images
as well [as false statements] (Rosen 1983: 155). This kind of linguistic
turn is not the direction of Deleuzes argument, but we may grant that
Deleuze has, thus far, only given a negative definition: the simulacrum is
an image without resemblance. If Deleuze can also make positive sense
of the nature of an image without resemblance, then Rosens objection
is not fatal. I shall return to this later.

VI. The Establishment of a Foundation

For Deleuze, the essence of Platonism is its four-fold method. We
are now brought to see how the third element of that method is the
establishment of a foundation: The role of the ground appears in all
clarity in the Platonic conception of participation . . . (And no doubt it is
this foundation which provides division with the mediation it seems to

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


lack . . . ) (Deleuze 2001: 62). Williams is the first to admit that, having
established such a foundation, Deleuze and Plato part company forever:
For Deleuze, ideas do not have an identity they are multiplicities of
pure differences . . . Deleuze and Plato cannot be reconciled on this issue
(Williams 2003: 82).
So far, I have characterised simulacral as being the nature of images
without resemblance, as images built on difference. In fact, Deleuzes
definition of the concept is much denser: These differential systems with
their disparate and resonating series, their dark precursor and forced
movements, are what we call simulacra (Deleuze 2001: 126). Indeed,
it conforms to Deleuze and Guattaris stricture that Every concept has
components that may, in turn, be grasped as concepts (Deleuze and
Guattari 1994: 19). Let us take just one of those components, namely,
the concept of series. Does it have a Platonic parallel? I raise this
question here because one might seek such a parallel in the seminal
Platonic doctrine of participation. The Idea of Justice, for example,
possesses justice in first place: What possesses in first place is the
ground itself . . . As for those whom we call just, they possess the quality
of being just in second, third or fourth place . . . or in simulacral fashion
(Deleuze 2001: 62). However, the instances of justice do not form a
series. To be a series entails a connection between the members of the
series, whereas here the only connection is back to the Idea, albeit at
varying levels of participation. What is more, for Plato, to the extent that
the actual diverse instances of justice participate in the Idea, at whatever
remove, they are, by definition, not simulacra.
However, perhaps a more obvious place to look for a Platonic parallel
might be in reading the Platonic concept to mean copies of copies. But
this is the very interpretation that Deleuze denies:
If we say of the simulacrum that it is a copy of a copy, an infinitely degraded
icon, an infinitely loose resemblance, we then miss the essential, that is, the
difference in nature between simulacrum and copy . . . If the simulacrum still
has a model, it is . . . a model of the Other. (Deleuze 2003: 2578)

In other words, there is, on the basis of Deleuzes own reading of Plato,
only the false image and the Idea of dissemblance which it internalises:
there is no series. As we have seen, the concept of series is but one
of a number of necessary components of Deleuzes larger concept of
simulacrum, and yet it is already a component that finds no Platonic
parallel. My interim conclusion is that the point of contact between
Deleuzes dense concept of simulacrum and Platos phantasm is, at best,
skin-deep. Although well adapted for the purposes of Deleuzes critique

462 Charles Mayell

of Plato, once the Deleuzian concept broke free of those confines it
became otiose.

VII. The Position of a Questionproblem Complex

Let us move on to the final stage of Deleuzes reading of the Platonic
dialectic. Deleuze presses Plato for an answer to the question, In
what, exactly, does the grounding test consist? (Deleuze 2001: 63).
Smith explains that If the foundation as essence is defined by the
original and superior identity or sameness of the Idea, the claimant will
be well-founded only to the degree that it resembles or imitates the
foundation (Smith 2006a: 96). However, to know to what extent the
image resembles the Idea, one would first have to know what the Idea,
in some sense beyond the limits of a purely visual paradigm, looked like.
Yet, as Rosen points out: [the Visitor] never explains how we know pure
forms. They are simply cited as though they are directly accessible; and in
discussing them, [he] continues to use cognitive terms derived primarily
from the language of vision (Rosen 1983: 87). Rosen seems to settle
for the Platonic myth and signs off with: If Plato teaches us anything,
it is that philosophers identify themselves, through speeches and deeds,
by the nobility and comprehensive eros of their souls and sophists by
the weakness of their souls (326). In effect, philosophers will just know
how to pass the grounding test, whereas sophists will not.
Deleuze is not content with either of the above replies to the
question: In what, exactly, does the grounding test consist? In
the most innovative part of his critique of Plato, Deleuze links the
mythical component of the Platonic dialectic with what he calls the
questionproblem complex:
Myth tells us that it always involves a further task to be performed, an enigma
to be resolved. The oracle is questioned, but the oracles response is itself a
problem . . . We must recall that Plato defined the dialectic as proceeding by
problems. (Deleuze 2001: 63)

This explains Deleuzes claim that within Platonism in general, myth

and dialectic are distinct forces . . . Division overcomes this duality and
integrates myth into the dialectic (Deleuze 2001: 61). Rosen offers
some general support: Philosophy, as portrayed in the Sophist, and
in the entire Platonic corpus, is not a doctrine but a problem (Rosen
1983: 324). However, Deleuze presses this insight further than Rosen,
or possibly, Plato would be prepared to go.

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


The argument is akin to that which begins The Logic of Sense. Here,
the text at stake is the famous passage in Alice in Wonderland when Alice
changes size. Why should this be seen as problematic in any fundamental
sense? Williams, in his book on Deleuzes philosophy of time, translates
the relevant passage: It is at the same time, in the same play, that
one becomes bigger than one was, and that one renders oneself smaller
than one becomes (Williams 2011: 139). One might object that this
is obfuscation on Deleuzes part because Alice is never both larger and
smaller in the same instant of time. However, as Williams goes on to
explain, Deleuze is not referring to instants but to plays, to a process
like a move in a game (139). This is to say, not unreasonably, that
the implications of the current move, in a game of chess for example,
reverberate through all the previous moves, as well as the moves yet to
come, but not within any conventional measurable stretch of time. It is,
instead, part of a process, and Deleuzes general point, as Williams puts
it, is that all processes of becoming take place together (139).
But what has it got to do with Plato? According to Deleuze, Plato
invites us to distinguish between two dimensions: (1) that of limited
and measured things . . . and (2) a pure becoming without measure
(Deleuze 2003: 1). The allusion is to the following passage from
Socrates: Check first in the case of the hotter and the colder whether you can
conceive of a limit, or whether the more and less do not rather reside in these
kinds, and . . . do not permit the attainment of any end . . . [Protarchus agrees
strongly]. You . . . remind me rightly with your pronouncement of strongly
that it and equally its counterpart gently are of the same caliber as the
more and less. Wherever they apply, they prevent everything from adopting a
definite quantity. (Plato 1997: 41112; 24ac)

As Deleuze takes up the story, Hotter never stops where it is but

is always going a point further, and the same applies to colder
(Deleuze 2003: 2). Deleuze looks only for what he needs in the
history of philosophy. Accordingly, in Platonism he finds traces of the
fecund problematicity that we recognise as central to his own theory
of Ideas, but it places Deleuze in closer proximity to Kant than to
Indeed, elsewhere, this is exactly how Smith argues: Difference and
Repetition can be read as Deleuzes Critique of Pure Reason (Smith
2006b: 45). The grand structure of Difference and Repetition traces a
series of transcendental deductions, very loosely in the manner of Kant.
In chapter two for example, Deleuze deduces the existence of the three

464 Charles Mayell

syntheses of Time; in chapter five, he carries out a parallel deduction
with regard to the nature of Space. The Deleuzian theory of Ideas may
have a Platonic ring to it, but it owes more to Kant. The opening of
chapter four makes it evident that Deleuze intends it to be a creative
reworking of the Transcendental Dialectic: Kant never ceased to remind
us that Ideas are essentially problematic (Deleuze 2001: 168). Kant
distinguishes three such Ideas: Pure reason . . . furnishes the idea for a
transcendental doctrine of the soul . . . a transcendental science of the
world . . . and . . . a transcendental knowledge of God (Kant 1983: 323;
A3345). Smith explains that Such Ideas are thinkable . . . but they are
not knowable, since there could never be an object of experience that
would correspond to them (Smith 2007: 45).
For Kant, therefore, it is not the world (qua an actual thing) that
is the object of the Idea of the world, it is rather this problem.
Conventional wisdom has it that, for Kant, Ideas are concepts that
lack an intuition. Deleuze radicalises this by arguing that Kant had
a better insight (but did not realise it): the Idea is, in Kants own
words, a problem to which there is no solution (Kant 1983: 319;
A328). Deleuze extends Kants unwitting insight to argue for Ideas as
structures that are inherently and infinitely problematic: These Ideas do
not disappear with their solutions, since they are the indispensable
condition without which no solution would ever exist (Deleuze 2001:
168). Deleuzes complaint against Kant is that it is only the Idea that is
inherently problematic: The problem lies wholly with the Idea objects
of experience and concepts can be detached from its problems
(Williams 2003: 142). Deleuze aims to make actual things inherently
For Deleuze, Every thing, animal or being assumes the status of
simulacrum (Deleuze 2001: 67). But it is equally true that Everything
is a multiplicity in so far as it incarnates an Idea (182). And it is
the concept of multiplicity that stands the test of time. Deleuze claims
that Ideas . . . do not exist only in our heads but occur here and there
in the production of an actual historical world (190). Ideas have us,
rather than the other way around. Deleuze transmutes Kantian Ideas into
vehicles of ontological difference: Modern thought and the renaissance
of ontology is based upon the questionproblem complex (195). To
answer the question from Rosen, that I left hanging earlier, Deleuze
does provide a positive account of how there can be an image of X that
does not resemble X: the relation of actual things to Ideas is not one of
resemblance but is, instead, akin to the intimate relationship between a
question and an answer.

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


VIII. The Fall of the Simulacrum

What, then, are we to make of the peculiar fate of the concept that
ties Deleuze most closely to Plato? Smith offers the following conjecture
on Deleuzes abandonment of the concept of simulacrum: That things
simulate a transcendent Idea has a meaning only in the context of
Platonism. In Deleuzes own ontology, things no longer simulate
anything (Smith 2006a: 116). In other words, Deleuze drops the concept
because it becomes not only otiose but also potentially misleading. Smith
also extends the scope of the question I have posed in this article by
asking: why does Deleuze not turn to Plato again, in earnest, until What
Is Philosophy? (Deleuze and Guattari 1994).5 He answers:
Deleuze does not ascribe to Greek thought the importance that one finds in
Nietzsche . . . or Heidegger . . . Deleuzes philosophical heroes . . . tend to be
found, not at the origins of philosophical thought (Socrates, Plato), but in
its maturation in the seventeenth century (Spinoza, Leibniz). (Smith 2006a:

Agreed, but this sits unhappily with the same authors claim that
Deleuzianism can be seen as a completion of Platonism.
I have to some extent already anticipated the starkest challenge to
the redundancy of the concept of the simulacrum, which comes from
Williams: The concept of the simulacrum is crucial to understanding
the relation between times and between the actual and virtual in
Deleuzes thought (Williams 2011: 190; n. 5). If this is right, then
I am wrong, but then again, so, apparently, is Deleuze. However, in
the same endnote, Williams offers only reservations about approaches
that leave it [simulacra] out, citing Miguel de Beisteguis Truth and
Genesis: Philosophy as Differential Ontology (2004). Earlier Williams
stresses the parallels between [Beisteguis] process account of genesis
and Deleuzes process account of time (Williams 2011: 190; n. 2). But
Williams goes on to claim that Beistegui is forced to introduce a Kantian
and phenomenological vocabulary of noumenon and phenomenon
which remains abstract in terms of actual processes and ties Deleuze
too closely to phenomenology (190; n.5).6 To my mind, Beisteguis
explicit denial of such a charge remains fully Deleuzian in vocabulary
and structure:
If there is anything like a phenomenological reduction in Deleuzes
thought . . . it lies . . . not in the reduction of . . . [the] phenomenon to the
transcendent sphere of consciousness . . . but in the reduction of the
phenomenal to its . . . pre-individual and genetic horizon . . . In other words,

466 Charles Mayell

phenomena are themselves reductions, they are . . . instances of the solutions
of problems or differential relations that constitute them. (Beistegui 2004:

If Beistegui really does leave the simulacrum out whilst remaining fully
Deleuzian, he must, on the face of it, be an ally to any thesis concerning
the redundancy of the concept of the simulacrum. In fact, things do not
turn out that way. Deep in the endnotes we find: In a way . . . the entirety
of Deleuzes thought . . . can be seen as a meditation on the simulacrum
(Beistegui 2004: 3712; n. 56). And in plain sight:
Phenomena are not so much constituted or given as they are generated
or produced, not by external causes and first principles . . . but by a preindividual differential complex that is entirely immanent to the system in
which it explicates itself, a set of conditions that are far more impersonal
than phenomenology will have ever allowed. This . . . is what allows Deleuze
to speak of the phenomenal as illusory . . . and . . . brings Deleuze in great
proximity to Plato. (Beistegui 2004: 311)

However having built this sandcastle, Beistegui immediately knocks it

down by clarifying that if phenomena, for Deleuze, are illusions, it is
not by virtue of their relation to a sphere of being . . . that would be less
illusory, more real, really real as it were . . . Such a view would amount
to . . . the crudest of Platonism (Beistegui 2004: 311). Beistegui seems
to argue that it is to avoid such crudity that Deleuze calls phenomena
simulacra. In other words, there are no foundational identities of the
sort we find in Plato.
And yet, ironically, the concept of the simulacrum seems to court the
very misunderstanding that Deleuze, it seems, wished to avoid. Williams
is forced to address it:
The misunderstanding would be that he is opposing simulacra to another kind
of real entity in his system. This is not the case: simulacra and differences
are all that there is in series and an error is made when something that is a
simulacrum is taken to be objectively real. (Williams 2011: 128)

Does this mean that the phenomenal world of actual things is, in
some way, not real? Williams plays this question through Deleuzes
philosophy of time which is not quite the same thing, and yet he is
prepared to go as far as to say that It would be a mistake to speak of
the real time of objects, because when viewed in relation to the processes
giving rise to them, the objects are not real (Williams 2011: 129).
Yet, if we take the longer view, we cannot seriously doubt Deleuzes
commitment to the reality of the world: It may be that believing in

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


this world . . . becomes our most difficult task . . . This is the empiricist
conversion . . . we have lost the world (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 75).
In the longer run too, and despite his own testimony, in what sense can
Deleuze really be said to have abandoned the concept of the simulacrum?
The answer is not purely a matter of conjecture. We know that, for
Deleuze, a philosophical concept is not the same as the name of that
concept: Although concepts are . . . baptized, they have their own way
of not dying while remaining subject to constraints of renewal (Deleuze
and Guattari 1994: 8). Concepts are, instead, multiplicities: There are
no simple concepts. Every concept has components and is defined by
them (15). Accordingly, as we have seen, the concept of the simulacrum
contains the components of series, dark precursor and more; one can,
however, find very little parallel for this inner conceptual machinery
in Deleuzes critique of Plato. Looking at Deleuzes philosophy as a
whole, it is clear that he does not abandon the concept of series, for
example, when he abandons the concept of simulacrum. All he realises
he has thrown overboard, I suggest, is the name of the concept and with
it the Platonic ballast that was never really an important part of his
system and which muddles us more than it enlightens us. Deleuze knows
that Concepts are not eternal; they are born and die in response to
our problems, to our history, and above all, to our becomings (27).
In what sense, therefore, had the problem or history changed? Not
because difference had been rescued but, possibly, because Plato had
been overthrown.

1. Patton, for example, argues that both senses [overturning and reversing] are
involved in Deleuzes version of the escape from philosophys Platonic past
(Patton 1994: 143).
2. Much of Stanley Rosens commentary is devoted to refuting the so-called
predicationalists (e.g., G. E. L. Owen) for whom Platos metaphysics is a
gradually ripening episode in the ancestral saga of Fregean analysis . . . Owens
assertion that the paradigm-copy model does not appear in Platos later
dialogues . . . is . . . indefensible (Rosen 1983: 196).
3. Typographical error corrected: the English text reads reserve instead of
4. In fact the Sophist does contain a myth: the Visitor tells the story of the Battle
of the Giants (Plato 1997: 267; 246a). We must conclude that, for Deleuze, it is
the wrong kind of myth.
5. There is also the, breathtakingly brief, late essay, Plato, the Greeks (Deleuze
1997: 1367).
6. Williams reference to Beistegui 2004: 227 is incorrect. Perhaps p. 277 was
intended; also see p. 311.

468 Charles Mayell

Badiou, Alain (2000) Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, trans. Louise Burchill,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Beistegui, Miguel de (2004) Truth and Genesis: Philosophy as Differential Ontology,
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Benson, Hugh H. (2009) Platos Method of Dialectic, in Hugh H. Benson (ed.), A
Companion to Plato, Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 85100.
Buchanan, Ian (2000) Deleuzism: A Metacommentary, Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles (1968) Diffrence et Rptition, Paris: Presses Universitaires de
Deleuze, Gilles (1983) Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson, London:
Deleuze, Gilles (1993) Lettre-preface, trans. Daniel W. Smith, in Jean-Clet Martin,
Variations: La philosophie de Gilles Deleuze, Paris: Payot & Rivages.
Deleuze, Gilles (1997) Plato, the Greeks, trans. Daniel W. Smith, in Essays Critical
and Clinical, Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis, pp. 1367.
Deleuze, Gilles (2001) Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, London:
Deleuze, Gilles (2003) The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale,
London: Continuum.
Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (1994) What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh
Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (2002) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London: Continuum.
Eliade, Mircea (1989) The Myth of the Eternal Return, trans. Willard R. Trask,
London and New York: Arkana.
Janaway, Christopher (2009) Plato and the Arts, in Hugh H. Benson (ed.), A
Companion to Plato, Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 388400.
Kant, Immanuel (1983) The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. Norman Kemp
Smith, London: Macmillan.
Patton, Paul (1994) Anti-Platonism and Art, in Constantin V. Boundas and
Dorothea Olkowsi (eds), Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy, New
York: Routledge, pp. 14156.
Plato (1997) Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper: the Sophist, trans. Nicholas
P. White; Phaedrus, trans. Alexander Nehemas and Paul Woodruff; the Republic,
trans. G. M. A. Grube, revised by C. D. C. Reeve; Philebus, trans. Dorothea Frede,
Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett.
Roffe, Jonathan (2005) Simulacrum, in Adrian Parr (ed.), The Deleuze Dictionary,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 2501.
Rosen, Stanley (1983) Platos Sophist: The Drama of Original and Image, Indiana:
Saint Augustines Press.
Smith, Daniel W. (2006a) The Concept of the Simulacrum: Deleuze and the
Overturning of Platonism, Continental Philosophy Review, 38, pp. 89123.
Smith, Daniel W. (2006b) Deleuze, Kant, and the Theory of Immanent Ideas, in
Constantin V. Boundas (ed.), Deleuze and Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, pp. 4361.
Smith, Daniel W. (2007) The Conditions of the New, Deleuze Studies, 1:1,
pp. 121.
Vernant, Jeanne-Pierre (1991) The Birth of Image, in Froma I. Zeitlin (ed.),
Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, pp. 16485.

The Rise and Fall of the Simulacrum


Widder, Nathan (2001) The Rights of Simulacra: Deleuze and the Univocity of
Being, Continental Philosophy Review, 34, pp. 43753.
Williams, James (2003) Gilles Deleuzes Difference and Repetition: A Critical
Introduction and Guide, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Williams, James (2011) Gilles Deleuzes Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction
and Guide, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical


Ronald Bogue

University of Georgia

The score of Piece Four of Sylvano Bussottis Five Piano Pieces for David
Tudor is the most important image in A Thousand Plateaus. It serves as
a prefatory image not only to the Rhizome plateau, but also to the work
as a whole. It functions as the books musical score, guiding readers
in their performance of the text. Embracing John Cages graphism and
aleatory practices, Bussotti created his own aserial new music, one
that celebrated passion and Bussottis open homosexuality. The visual
elements of Piece Four include a deterritorialisation of the standard
piano score, a diagram of the compositions abstract machine, and a
drawing that Bussotti had produced ten years before writing Five Piano
Pieces for David Tudor. The drawing itself is a rhizomic artwork, with
details that echo visual motifs throughout A Thousand Plateaus. The
superimposition of the drawing on the deterritorialised framework of
the standard piano score conjoins the visible and the audible, faciality
and the refrain, in a single artefact.
Keywords: Sylvano Bussotti, John Cage, David Tudor, graphism, art and
During the last decade, I have taught a semester-long seminar on A
Thousand Plateaus five times, and last fall I thought I was well prepared
for the fifth iteration. But at the end of my lecture on the books first
section, a student who had been an aspiring opera soprano in a previous
life asked, What do you have to say about the musical score on the
opening page? and all I really had to say was, Ive never given it
Deleuze Studies 8.4 (2014): 470490
DOI: 10.3366/dls.2014.0166
Edinburgh University Press

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 471

much thought. I managed to improvise a few vague observations until
the class period came to a welcome end, but after class I began studying
the score and its provenance, discovering very soon that the work is not
only fascinating in its own right, but also of great significance for A
Thousand Plateaus. Like so many references in A Thousand Plateaus,
the Bussotti score operates both internally and externally, reverberating
within the book while opening the text to proliferating connections with
the outside world, those rhizomatic connections extending so seamlessly
that it is impossible to determine which elements are intentionally
referenced by Deleuze and Guattari, and which are fortuitously evoked
through the citation.
Each of A Thousand Plateaus fifteen textual sections is preceded by a
visual image, and that of Bussottis score is the most important of them
all. Aside from Bussottis score, few of the visual images add a great deal
to the text. Some are mere visual examples of specific elements in the
plateau that follows (the Ark of the Covenant preceding On Regimes of
Signs; the wooden chariot drawing at the beginning of the Nomadology
plateau; the photographs of an Etruscan amphora and plate prefacing
the Becoming plateau; the crazy quilt before The Smooth and the
Striated). Others have a humorous or sardonic edge: the lobster of The
Geology of Morals (God is a Lobster, or a double pincer, a double bind
[Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 40]); the Buster Brown comic of Three
Novellas; the partridge trap of Apparatus of Capture; the Postulates of
Linguistics plateaus image of the ominous Doctor Mabuse issuing mots
dordre; the Conclusions Computer Einstein portrait, representing the
machinehuman interface of the electronic, the inorganic, the corporeal
and the mythical.
A few require more careful elucidation. Deleuze and Guattaris poetic
caption for the photograph preceding One or Several Wolves, Field
of Tracks, or Wolf Line, only attains full clarity after one consults the
list of Illustrations and learns that the photograph is titled Wolf Tracks
on Snow. Here, the textimage relation is more complex than in many
other plateaus, in that the literal wolfs trace is a figurative image of the
Freudian erasure of wolves as packs and the wolf as animal (rather than
substitute father). The image captioned Dogon Egg and Distribution
of Intensities, which precedes the Body without Organs plateau, has a
textual counterpart in the reference to the BwO as the full egg and The
tantric egg (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 153), but its full significance
is only made evident in Anti-Oedipus, where Deleuze and Guattari
expound at length on the Dogons world-egg as Body without Organs
and its relation to the status of incest within the Dogons complex

472 Ronald Bogue

mythology (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 1548). A similar expanded
resonance emerges if one uncovers the reference that inspired Deleuze
and Guattari to preface the Faciality plateau with Duccios The Calling
of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew. Deleuze and Guattaris contrast of
the frontal face and the profile is mapped onto the distinction between
the despotic and passional regimes, but only upon consultation of Jean
Pariss LEspace et le regard (1965), a central source in the plateau, can
one appreciate the rich network of artistic associations that Duccios
painting is capable of activating.
If there are images that might rival Bussottis score in importance,
they would be Lgers Men in the Cities (preceding the Segmentarity
plateau) and Klees Twittering Machine (placed before the Refrain
plateau). Without Lgers title (provided solely in the list of Illustrations),
the relationship between the image and the plateau is only intuitively
evident, but once identified, the painting lends the plateau added
resonances, linking it to discussions of the city in the Nomadology and
Apparatus of Capture plateaus, while retaining its implicit echoes of
the Faciality plateau through its probe-head images of abstract frontal
and profile faces. Klees Twittering Machine obviously evokes birds and
refrains, but the reference to Klee itself brings to mind Klees writings on
music and painting and his own practice as a painter, dancing to music
as he painted. In the cases of both Lger and Klee, modern paintings
polysemic densities lend the images a considerable power as components
of A Thousand Plateaus, and this power is only reinforced by their
association with such key concepts as micropolitics, segmentarity and
the refrain.
Nonetheless, Bussottis score still remains A Thousand Plateaus
most important image, and for a number of reasons. If nothing else,
it has pride of place it is the first image you see when you start
reading the book. The Authors Note (avant-propos in the French)
advises the reader that To a certain extent, these plateaus may be read
independently of one another, except the conclusion, which should be
read at the end, and in the English translation, the reader could possibly
choose to turn first to a plateau other than the Rhizome plateau and
thereby avoid viewing Bussottis score, since the Authors Note is on a
right-hand page facing a blank left-hand page. But in the original French
edition, the avant-propos is on the left-hand page directly opposite
Bussottis score on the right. Hence, even if you should choose to read
other plateaus before the Rhizome plateau, you have already seen this
image. Of course, you have also seen the opening text of the Rhizome

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 473

chapter, but significantly, seeing the text provides very little information
about the section in question. No doubt you cannot help instantly
deciphering the plateaus large-font title, but the rest of the text is merely
generic typography, meaningful only when you actually start reading the
smaller-font text. By contrast, the image of Bussottis score is absorbed
as a single entity, and, as we shall see, this fact is central to Bussottis
interrogation of the relationship between the visual and the aural, as
well as the verbal.
Further, the Rhizome plateau itself has a special significance among
the fifteen sections. It is titled Introduction, and if the conclusion should
be read last, it would seem that the introduction should be read first,
even if Deleuze and Guattari do not say as much. The rhizome text
was published as a separate book in 1976, the only plateau to appear
by itself. (One or Several Wolves and How Do You Make Yourself a
Body without Organs? also were published before 1980, but as articles
in the journal Minuit.) In the 1976 book, as in A Thousand Plateaus, the
text is labelled introduction (though the word followed rhizome rather
than preceding it), which indicates that even in its early formulation, the
section possessed an introductory function, though in its 1976 form, the
question must arise, introduction to what? An introductory exposition
of a concept that deserves further exploration? Or an introductory
harbinger of things to come, a tantalising preview of the rhizomatic
complex that will be published as A Thousand Plateaus? Both seem
plausible, and both stress the texts position as something preceding
something else.
More important, the concept of the rhizome, among all those of
A Thousand Plateaus, best characterises the book itself, and indeed,
Deleuze and Guattari directly address the questions of the Book and their
own status as authors in the Rhizome plateau. And finally, Introduction:
Rhizome is something like an operatic overture to the book, densely
packed with motifs whose full significance will become apparent only
after reading the entire text. If read first, and read carefully, the Rhizome
plateau should be confusing, difficult, even opaque at times, and in
that sense, it is a baptism by fire, a fitting introduction to the authors
uncompromising strategy of always working in the middle and of forcing
readers to leap unprepared into the middle with them.
Bussottis score has a similar inaugural, introductory function. It was
not included in the 1976 book Rhizome: Introduction, which, despite
what one might initially think, indicates not the scores lesser but its
greater importance. Both the plateau and the score can stand alone,

474 Ronald Bogue

and hence the image has a certain autonomy. It is a fitting image to
introduce the first plateau, but it should also be seen as the entire books
master image. If the Rhizome plateau is the works overture, Bussottis
composition is its score. It tells us how to perform A Thousand Plateaus,
how we should play the book.
Bussotti is a multi-talented artist whose productions include music,
drawings, paintings, costumes, theatrical productions, films, poems and
prose works. Born in 1931, he came to international prominence
in 1959 with the composition under consideration here, Five Piano
Pieces for David Tudor, a piece inspired by his experiences the
previous year when he first attended the Internationale Ferienkurse
fr Neue Musik (International Summer Courses for New Music) in
Darmstadt, Germany. Initiated in 1946 by Wolfgang Steinecke, the
Darmstadt Ferienkurse in its early years focused on works of quasitonal modernism, but by 1952, three young composers had emerged as
leaders of an increasingly influential avant-garde: Luigi Nono, Karlheinz
Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez. They were proponents of atonal
serialism, a rigorous and severe formalism that severed musical elements,
in Attinellos words, from any continuous and meaningful context
and reformulated [them] as nondirected, temporally arbitrary (i.e.
reversible) patterns (Attinello 2007: 29). However rich the variations
in serial practice, the style (as distinguished from the technique) of
serialism, as it is usually understood, [was] one of nearly mathematical
purity (29).
The year Bussotti first attended the Ferienkurse, 1958, was also
the year John Cage made his inaugural appearance at Darmstadt.
On 3 September, Cage collaborated with David Tudor in two-piano
performances of works by Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, Christian
Wolff and himself; later, Cage delivered three lectures, during which
Tudor played various works by Cage and others. Cages presentations
were highly controversial and their subsequent influence on avant-garde
music was profound. For some composers, Cages experimentations
with sonic textures and chance were inspirational; for others, they
were anathema. Among those most opposed to the aleatory aspect of
Cages approach was Boulez, who later caustically derided the post-Cage
adoption of chance as a compositional practice:
Notable in several composers of our generation at the present time is a
constant preoccupation, not to say obsession, with chance. . . . The most
elementary form of the transmutation of chance is located in the addition of
a philosophy dyed with Orientalism and masking a fundamental weakness in

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 475

the technique of composition; this would be a recourse against the asphyxia
of invention, recourse to a more subtle poison that destroys every embryo
of artisanship; I should willingly qualify that experience if it is one in
which the individual, not feeling responsible for his work, simply throws
himself into a puerile magic out of unavowed weakness, out of confusion, for
temporary assuagements I should willingly qualify that experience as chance
by inadvertence. (Boulez 1968: 35)

Bussotti, by contrast, was among those who responded positively to

Cages experimentations with chance, adopting aleatory effects in many
of his compositions in the decade following 1958, as is evident in the
Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor of 1959.
It is important to note, however, that Bussottis embrace of chance
was idiosyncratic, and in one major regard, antithetical to Cages
sensibility. Boulez saw in Cages aleatory methods a retreat from the
responsibilities of a rigorous serialism, but both composers treated
sounds in a detached and intellectual fashion, whereas Bussotti
approached music as a personal, emotional and erotic medium. In the
prefatory note to Due voci, composed between May and December
1958, Bussotti declared himself an advocate of aserialism, which he
defined as the dialectical rebellion of the humanistic attitude in the
man who writes music, against the stiff aridity of systems (cited in
Ulman 1996: 188). As Ulman observes, what Bussotti sought in Due
voci, and in many of his subsequent compositions, was to infuse the
gestural and sonic world of the serial avant-garde with the intimacy and
subjectivity which serialism had sought through impersonal rationality
to avoid (188). The aim of Bussottis aleatory methods was not, as
Cage advocated, to let sounds be themselves (Cage 1961: 10), but
to invite performers to participate with the composer in an affective
interpersonal event. In this regard, Tudors influence was essential. A
champion of American new music and the leading avant-garde pianist
of his generation, Tudor was not simply a technical virtuoso but also a
gifted improviser whose manipulations of all components of the piano
greatly expanded the instruments range of sonic possibilities. He tapped,
thumped and beat the wooden frame, operated the pedals as percussive
accessories, reached inside the piano and plucked, scratched, rapped and
strummed the strings, sliding fingers up and down, coaxing overtones
and eerie whispers from the instrument. Of necessity, given the elaborate
gestures and broad movements required to execute the score, Tudors
stage performances, besides generating exotic sounds, also functioned
as theatrical events, during which, as Richard Toop writes of another
Bussotti piano composition for three players, the piano becomes a prone

476 Ronald Bogue

body, alternately caressed, cajoled and assaulted by its suitors (cited
in Griffiths 1981: 127).1 It is no doubt in large part this theatrical
and affective dimension of improvisatory practice that drew Bussotti to
experimentations with chance.
Bussottis theatrical and libidinal proclivities, it should be noted, were
manifest not only in his music but also in his person. Many have
remarked on the tumultuous effect of Cages presentations at Darmstadt
in 1958, the theoretical repercussions of which were compounded
by the personal animosities Cages appearance unleashed Boulez
and Stockhausen had long vied for dominance at Darmstadt, often
acrimoniously, and it was Stockhausen who had invited Cage to
Darmstadt and who defended Cages music from the vociferous attacks
launched by many of the participants in the 1958 Ferienkurse. But Smith
and Attinello argue persuasively that Bussotti may well have been an
even more disturbing presence than Cage at Darmstadt in 1958, chiefly
because of his flamboyant and forthright gay sexuality. Boulez and
Cage, like many gay men in the 1950s, were quiet about their sexual
orientation, and in the closed, hothouse atmosphere of Darmstadt,
Bussottis frank behaviour seems to have provoked considerable unease:
Bussotti made certain underlying connections between music, avant-gardism
and homosexuality all too evident; while inspiring some of the younger
gay figures to be less secretive about their behaviour, and even apparently
introducing some participants to sexual experiences heretofore only imagined
by them, he also definitely alarmed and annoyed the senior figures,
particularly Boulez. (Ormond-Smith and Attinello 2007: 110)

Bussottis homoerotic approach to music was already implicit in

his 1958 Due voci, with its text from La Fontaine celebrating
voluptuousness, and it was explicit in the texts of Pices de chair II,
composed between 1959 and 1960. In the fifth of the Five Piano Pieces
for David Tudor, Bussotti provides above the two-stave piano score
a third line labelled voce, apparently meant to be sung, with a text
reading, I dont say no to the boys with clear eyes/ but I LOVE/
more than all those the ones with/ black eyes that shine (cited in
Ormond-Smith and Attinello 2007: 112). Bussottis eroticism reached
full efflorescence in his 1964 composition La Passion selon Sade, a
musical and theatrical work whose score combines musical notations,
complex charts, diagrams, drawings of characters and other graphic
elements. As Ulman comments,
In La Passion the latent eroticism of Bussottis graphic style and opulent
instrumental writing becomes explicit: the flautist must strip partially, the

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 477

singer and conductor lie together on a divan, the percussionist functions
as torturer, and the two pianos characteristically alternate between violent
deluges and delicate explorations of unusual sonorities [. . . ] Cages theater
of the absurd had been transformed, with the added inspiration of Artauds
theatre of cruelty, into Bussottis theatre of Eros, which would grow ever
more expansive: by the end of the sixties, Bussotti had even embarked on his
first grand opera, Lorenzaccio (196872). (Ulman 1996: 189)

The chance Cage advocated, then, was for Bussotti a mere vehicle
for creating improvisatory music-theatre. Yet if Bussotti responded
favourably to Cages experiments with chance, he was even more deeply
affected by Cages explorations of the graphic dimension of musical
scores. A number of Cages scores from the 1950s departed radically
from standard notational practices. Many consisted solely of graphic,
non-musical elements, as in Variations 1 (for any instrument), Aria (for
solo voice) and Fontana Mix (electronic score), all produced in 1958.
Variations I consists of a prefatory page of instructions and six plastic
transparencies, the first of which bears twenty-seven dots of various
sizes, the following five of which have five randomly drawn lines each.
The performer(s) is (are) to superimpose the lines on the dots in any
way, using the dots as notes and the lines as trajectories of five sonic
elements. Aria is a twenty-page setting of words and word fragments in
Armenian, Russian, Italian, French and English. The vocal lines, Cage
explains, are drawn in black, with or without parallel dotted lines,
or in one or more of 8 colors. These differences represent 10 styles of
singing. Any 10 styles may be used and any correspondence between
color and style maybe established (Cage 1960: preface). Near each
squiggle are snippets of text that the soloist is to render in song. Fontana
Mix includes ten pages with six curved lines each, ten transparencies
with randomly placed points, and a transparency with a rectangular,
ruler-like grid of small squares, 100 squares long, 20 squares wide. The
performer generates the score by placing a transparency of points on a
sheet of lines, and then superimposing the grid at any chosen angle. Once
assembled, the given complex of points, lines and grid are translated into
electronic sounds according to Cages general instructions for utilising
the graphic elements to generate the tone, colour and pitch of sonic
The influence of Cages treatment of the score as visual artefact is
immediately evident in the Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor, especially
in Piece Four, and throughout much of his career, Bussotti continued to

478 Ronald Bogue

make dual use of the score as musical notation and graphic medium to
such an extent that he is typically classified in music histories as an
exponent of graphism (a movement all too often dismissed as a
frivolous musical dead-end).
Three of the Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor premiered at
Darmstadt in 1959, with Tudor at the keyboard, and from its initial
execution, Bussottis aleatory methods came under fire. Following the
performance of one of the pieces, an audience member asked Tudor to
play the piece again obviously, in an effort to question the validity
of the entire improvisatory enterprise. Stockhausen refused to allow
a repeat performance.2 That same year, the complete score appeared
in print. Since then, the piece has remained one of the best-known of
Bussottis compositions, and the image of Piece Four perhaps the mostoften reproduced of all Bussottis scores.
Thus, the opening visual image of A Thousand Plateaus, when
contextually situated, brings together a number of themes. Generated
amidst the 1958 Darmstadt turmoil surrounding Cages lectures,
Tudors performances and Bussottis gay flamboyance, the Five Piano
Pieces for David Tudor represents a challenge to the ascetic serialism
of Boulez, an aserial amalgamation of aleatory composition, theatrical
performance, unconventional graphic notation and affectively charged
textures. To label the score as inherently homoerotic would be farfetched, but, as I hope to show, it does possess a decided sensuality
that unsettles the scores more conventional, geometric elements. This
interplay of chance, corporeal performativity, graphic experimentation
and affective intensity provides a fitting preface to the entirety of A
Thousand Plateaus.
To understand Piece Four of Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor, we
must first consider the compositions prefatory page, which bears a brief
text by Bussotti in Italian and German translation. In English, the text
reads as follows:
The expression David Tudor used in the title is not a dedication but, so to
speak, a kind of indication of the instrument.
The written musical characters realize a scale that goes from traditional
written notes to signs as yet musically unknown: disegno [drawing, design].
In one case (piano piece 4), an autonomous disegno by the author, from ten
years earlier, is pianistically adapted. Often the sonic acts that such a disegno
may generate remain in the hands of the pianist.

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 479

The five pieces, taken from a more vast cycle and hence dissociated from that
cycle, reunite here in a minor cycle virtually placed within the global cycle.
Thus, a finished part (piano piece 2) in its global context becomes unfinished,
a complete part (piano piece 5) incomplete. (My translation)

Bussottis first prefatory sentence tells us that the musical instrument

is the machinic assemblage Tudor-piano (and since Tudor died in
1996, the composition is now unplayable at least if one takes Bussottis
comment literally). Just as Deleuze and Guattari insist that the book is
a machine plugged into other machines (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 6)
and that there is no separation between the lives and times of authors
and their works (41), so Bussotti writes for a Tudor-piano machine, and
invites us to view the composition as a machinic assemblage of Bussottiscore-Tudor-piano and to plug that machine into other machines.
Bussotti then states that the scores components run the gamut from
conventional musical notation to unknown graphic signs. A quick glance
at the scores five pieces confirms Bussottis assertion, though it would
seem that in each piece conventional notation is scarcely present, and is
almost immediately sent speeding along a deterritorialising line of flight
into a galaxy of cryptic signs and designs.
Bussottis score stages a confrontation of the aural and the visual, of
music and the plastic arts, a fact Bussotti explicitly states in the prefaces
third sentence, informing us that Piece Four started as an autonomous
1949 disegno that was adapted pianistically ten years later. As Roland
Barthes says in a profound one-page essay on Bussotti, the composers
basic principle is that writing is not a simple instrument. A Bussotti
constructs a homological space [. . . ] one part wizards book of multiple
signs, refined, coded with infinite minutiae, and one part vast analogical
composition, in which the lines, the locations, the flights, the stripes are
charged with suggesting, if not imitating, what is actually happening on the
concert stage [. . . ] A Sylvano Bussotti manuscript is already a total work [. . . ]
visibly, it is an ordered jumble of drives, desires, obsessions, which expresses
itself graphically, spatially, in ink, one might say, independently of what the
music communicates. (Barthes 1995: III, 3878)

As overture to A Thousand Plateaus, Piano Piece Four juxtaposes

two of the books central aesthetic concerns: painting (the Faciality
plateau) and music (the Refrain plateau), each art with its own problem:
painting, that of the face-landscape, and music, that of the refrain.
But just as music proves to have rhythmic faces or characters and
[. . . ] melodic landscapes (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 318), so painting

480 Ronald Bogue

Figure 1. Piece Four, Sylvano Bussottis Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor.
1959 Ricordi, Milano. (Reproduced with permission of the publisher.)

has its refrains, and in Bussottis score, sonic and visual landscapes
and refrains enter a zone of indiscernibility that opens onto a plane
of consistency composed of speeds and intensities within an unformed
And now to the score of Piano Piece Four (Figure 1). The composition
title is preceded by the Roman numeral XIV, indicating that this is part
fourteen of the virtual global cycle from which it has been extracted.
(That global cycle, consisting of fourteen sections, was published in 1960
as Pices de chair II.) The other four piano pieces for David Tudor are
labelled in accordance with their positions within Pices de chair II, as
V b), VIII, d) and I a). The basic unit of a traditional piano score
consists of a two-stave system, the top stave most often registering notes
for the right hand and marked with a treble clef, the bottom, bass clef
stave bearing notes for the left hand. Lines two and three of the score
have the traditional treble and bass clefs, but the five lines of the bass
stave zigzag wildly across the other four staves (Figure 2). Lines one,
four and five have C-clefs, the line bisecting the capital-B-like shape
representing middle C. The C-clef on line one is conventionally referred
to as a tenor clef, line four a soprano clef and line five an alto clef.
C-clefs have specialised uses for certain instruments, and are virtually
unheard of in piano music, as are piano scores with five staves (designed
for five-handed pianists, perhaps?). And as we shall see, only line fives
C-clef actually designates a specific musical note.

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 481

Figure 2. Treble and bass clef of Piece Four.

In my reading of the score, the left-hand margin units numbered one

through five indicate the performance components that will be activated
when the full composition, labelled six, is actually played.3 Unit One
is the most obscure of the scores components. No explanation of the
significance of the P, M and S is provided in the score, but according to
Bussotti (personal communication),
The three letters in question signify: P = pizzicato M = muted (stop
the sonority) and S = sordina [muffled] with all the means of directly
transforming the sounds; introduction of paper between the strings,
application of different pieces of material between the same.4 (My translation)

Hence, when graphic marks touch the top stave, the performer is to
reach into the piano, pluck the strings (pizzicato), dampen the strings
with the hands (muted), and sound the strings prepared with paper
and other materials, either by striking the corresponding keys of the
keyboard or by sounding the strings directly (plucking, striking). (The
use of the prepared piano was one frequently employed by David Tudor
in compositions he performed, and hence an appropriate component of
a score dedicated to him.)
Unit Two designates the two fundamental operations of all piano
playing: striking strings and muting them. But Bussotti extends these

482 Ronald Bogue

operations beyond the keyboard to the lid of the piano, scored with an
additional two lines. If you follow stave two left to right, in fact, you
find that midway through the piece two extra lines appear, replete with
enigmatic markings. Hence, all the standard keyboard functions of piano
playing are represented by one treble clef stave, rather than the two
stave, treblebass clef system, and the lid is assigned a role comparable
to that of the keyboard.
Unit Three is the most complex and most important of the five units.
Its components are the basic elements of any sound. Each of the five
zigzag lines charts movements in an analogue scale of less and more,
of increases and decreases in some continuum. The intensity line charts
volume, louder and softer. The duration line registers the tempo, faster
and slower (the peak of the duration triangle marking the compositions
fastest tempo). Timbre in music designates the quality of a sound, that
which differentiates a flute from an oboe, for example. The timbre
lines continuum, I propose, is that of dark and light, or if you have
a synaesthetic mind, like Olivier Messiaens, the line might be seen as
traversing the sonic analogue of the visual chromatic spectrum from the
edge of the infrared to the limits of the ultraviolet, or from cool to warm
colours, or from light to heavy saturation. (Such visual analogues of
sonic qualities are legitimate here since Bussottis score is both an aural
and a visual artefact.) The frequency line designates variations in pitch,
lower and higher sounds, from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. I have concluded
that Sequenza, the most puzzling of the terms, refers to the sequentiality
of sonic elements, that is, the differentiation of separate sonic events
via the temporal gaps between sounds. The continuum charted by the
sequence line ranges from a maximum distance between sounds, to the
minimum of simultaneity. Thus, the base of the sequence line marks
a moment of simultaneity, in which the player makes all sounds at
once and that nadir coincides with the greatest concentration of design
marks on the score.
If you extract the five lines (Figure 3), what you have is the diagram
of the composition, in Bonta and Protevis words, the outline of the
traits of expression of an abstract machine, the nonformal functions
linked to the phyla of unformed matters or traits of expression
(Bonta and Protevi 2004: 79). The five components of Unit Three name
the unformed matter and nonformal functions of sound in general, and
the lines outline the specific disposition of that matter/function within
this composition.
Unit Four, inside the piano, directs the performer to reach into the
piano and strum the undampered strings up, down and in an outward

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 483

Figure 3. Unit Three of Piece Four.

spiral motion. Unit Five is Bussottis little joke. The scores drawing
touches the fifth stave only at one small point atop the stave. That point,
if read as a musical note on the alto clef, is A above middle C. Fives
parenthesis notates the same pitch with the more common treble clef, as
if to remind the performer how to read the unusual alto clef, lest he or
she forget how to do so.
Unit Seven, atop the score, says see note, in other words, see
the prefatory sentence indicating that the score was originally a 1947
disegno that was pianistically adapted on 27 March 1959. With
some laborious graphics editing, you can expose the original drawing,
which, to my eye, is a thoroughly rhizomatic design (Figure 4). The
clear horizontal axis of the drawing delineates the plane of some
undetermined rhizomatic growth suspended in space, such that the
elements below the horizontal axis are as rootless as the elements that
rise above the axis. The drawings forms are non-representational, but
decidedly organic rather than geometrical. Amid the drawing, one finds
shapes resembling a tendril and fruit, a spider-like creature suspended
from a thread, a column of shapes resembling plant cells or rock
Tubers, polyps, leaves, stamens, pistils, shoots and stems may be
discerned in the thicket of forms (Figure 5).
The composition has a vertical axis, and if one wishes to formulate
an analysis correlative to that which Deleuze conducts in Francis Bacon
(1981), one might situate the drawings generative locus of chaos, which
Bacon calls the graph (diagram in the French translation), in the zero

484 Ronald Bogue

Figure 4. Bussottis 1947 disegno.

point of the XY axes (Figure 6). From that site one can imagine the
form emerging. But any one of the lines of flight so designated could
be an initiating line of involution, from which the acentred rhizomatic
design emerges.
My hypothesis, however, is that the point on the bottom stave, the A
above middle C, is the generative source of the composition (Figure 7).
It is Paul Klees grey point, a nowhere-existent something or
somewhere-existent nothing (cited in Bogue 2004: 80), a fundamental
point of chaos that leaps out of itself, tracing a line that may eventually
delineate all forms and volumes. Deleuze and Guattari invoke Klees
originary point of chaos at the inception of the Refrain plateau,
providing a visual analogue of musics generation of refrains from a
sonic point of chaos. In Bussottis A above middle C, then, the sonic
and visual meet. That point may be read as a musical symbol and as a
drawing component. There the realms of sound and sight converge in a
point of undecidability, which generates the soundscape and landscape
inscribed on the ink-covered paper of the score.
If music and art are envisioned as planes of consistency, the musical
score exists on one plane, the drawing on the other (Figure 8). The
A above middle C, the point common to the two planes, fixes the
line of intersection of the two planes. If the planes are then rotated
toward one another, they merge in a single plane, a plane of consistency

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 485

Figure 5. Tubers, polyps, leaves, stamens, pistils, shoots and stems.

Figure 6. Horizontal and vertical axes of Bussottis drawing.

common to the drawing and the sound score, and that plane is
embodied in the score itself, a sheet of paper diagraming an abstract

486 Ronald Bogue

Figure 7. A above middle C (Klees grey point).

Figure 8. Planes of art and music.

But Piano Piece Four is also the score of A Thousand Plateaus. It

serves as an overture to the book, replete with strata of sedimentation,
abstract lines of flight, becomings-animal, plant and mineral, supple and
rigid lines of segmentarity (Figure 9), white wallblack hole machines of

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 487

Figure 9. Supple and rigid lines of segmentarity.

faciality (Figure 10), regimes of signs (Figure 11), smooth and striated
spaces. Bussottis score tells us how to perform the book to follow
and enact its variations in intensity; to explore the varying duration
of tempos of reading; to savour the timbres of tones, voices and
vocabularies; to discover the works varying frequencies and resonances;
and to sample its component textual passages in sequences separated by
varying distances, or to perform components in simultaneities assembled
in the virtual memory space of coexisting sheets of the past. In engaging
these five elements, we activate the diagram of A Thousand Plateaus
abstract machine, a realm of pure speeds (duration, frequency, sequence)
and affects (intensities, timbral qualities).

488 Ronald Bogue

Figure 10. Machines of faciality in A Thousand Plateaus and Piece Four.

Figure 11. Regimes of signs in A Thousand Plateaus and spiral arrow in Piece

Scoring the Rhizome: Bussottis Musical Diagram 489

1. Besides playing a key role in the development of the New York Schools
early piano music, Tudor was also an influential force in the dissemination of
American new music in Europe. As Beal shows, Over a brief but fertile period
of unprecedented international exchange, Tudor operated as an ambassador of
[American new music], and his diplomatic presence at key new music venues
in West Germanyespecially at the Internationale Ferienkurse fr Neue Musik
(International Holiday Courses for New Music) in Darmstadt between 1956
and 1961established American experimentations controversial yet ultimately
stimulating presence in conversations about new music (Beal 2007: 78).
2. Similar objections to the improvisatory nature of the composition arose during
performances of Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor in other venues. Cope
records that Bussottis Five Pieces was performed in Los Angeles three times
in one concert, by three different performers. More conservative members
of the audience, obviously appalled by the lack of recognizable similarities
among the performances in structure, length, instrumentation, or motive,
reacted antagonistically to both performers and work. . . . In reference to these
performances Halsey Stevens has pointed out that : . . . if Mr. Bussotti had
wandered into the hall and didnt know what was going on, he would not have
had the remotest idea that those three performances, or any one of them, might
have been his own piece. They were so totally different in every respect that
the only thing he could lay claim to was having designed the score, not to have
composed the piece. Aleatory music, it seems to me, as it is frequently pursued,
is an amusing parlor game . . . (Cope 1989: 165).
3. Other readings of the score, of course, are possible. Erik Ulman, in personal
correspondence, argues that the numbered elements (save number seven) are to
be performed in sequence. No doubt his alternative is but one of several other
possibilities, all of which may be justified by Bussottis prefatory remark that the
execution of the score rests in the hands of the pianist.
4. Bussottis email message of 18 October 2012, written in French, reads as follows:
Les trois lettres en question signifient: P = pizzicato M = muted (estomper la
sonorit) et S = sordina avec tous le moyens de transformer directement les sons;
introductions de papier entre les cordes, applications de morceaux diffrents
entre les mmes.

Attinello, Paul (2007) Postmodern or Modern: A Different Approach to Darmstadt,
Contemporary Music Review, 26:1, pp. 2537.
Barthes, Roland (1995) Oeuvres compltes, ed. ric Marty, Paris: Seuil.
Beal, Amy C. (2007) David Tudor in Darmstadt, Contemporary Music Review,
26:1, pp. 7788.
Bogue, Ronald (2004) Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts, New York:
Bonta, Mark and John Protevi (2004) Deleuze and Geophilosophy, Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.
Boulez, Pierre (1968) Notes on an Apprenticeship, trans. Herbert Weinstock, New
York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Cage, John (1960) Aria: Voice (Any Range), New York: Henmar Press.
Cage, John (1961) Silence. Lectures and Writings, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan
University Press.

490 Ronald Bogue

Cope, David H. (1989) New Directions in Music, Fifth Edition, Dubuque, IA: Wm.
C. Brown.
Deleuze, Gilles (1981) Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation, Paris: Editions de la
Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (1977) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, New York:
Viking Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian
Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Griffiths, Paul (1981) Modern Music: The Avant Garde Since 1945, London:
J. M. Dent.
Ormond-Smith, David and Paul Attinello (2007) Gay Darmstadt: Flamboyance and
Rigour at the Summer Courses for New Music, Contemporary Music Review,
26:1, pp. 10514.
Paris, Jean (1965) LEspace et le regard, Paris: Seuil.
Ulman, Erik (1996) The Music of Sylvano Bussotti, Perspectives of New Music,
34:2, pp. 186201.

A Redemptive Deleuze? Choked

Passages or the Politics of Contraction

Erik Bordeleau

Brussels Free University

When they want to discredit the political relevance of Deleuzes thought,
Hallward considers counter-effectuation as a redemptive gesture,
and Rancire describes Deleuzes history of cinema as a history of
redemption. Each time, redemption refers pejoratively to a break
out of this world and a form of apolitical passivity, in an attempt
to reduce Deleuze to be a mere spiritual thinker, simply renewing
that Oriental intuition which Hegel found at work in Spinozas
philosophy (Hallward 2006: 6). But is it all that simple? How should
we envisage the relationship between creativity and redemption, politics
and passivity in Deleuzes work? And in what way does that concern
Deleuzes philosophy connection to the Non-West, and namely China?
Keywords: spirituality,
dramatisation, politics





Contemplating is creating, mystery of passive creation, sensation.

Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 212

In the conclusion of Time-Image, discussing Syberbergs cinema,

Deleuze opposes the time-image and the creative fabulation to the
realm of information. Quite surprisingly, this opposition is placed
under the sign of redemption: redemption, art beyond knowledge, is
also creation beyond information. (Deleuze 1989: 270) This passage
finds a strange one might say apocalyptic echo toward the end of
Difference and Repetition, where arts highest possibility is defined as

Deleuze Studies 8.4 (2014): 491508

DOI: 10.3366/dls.2014.0167
Edinburgh University Press

492 Erik Bordeleau

the production of a repetition or contraction, that is, a freedom for the
end of a world (Deleuze 1994: 293).
Incidentally, when they want to discredit the political relevance
of Deleuzes thought, Hallward considers counter-effectuation as a
redemptive gesture, and Rancire describes Deleuzes history of
cinema as a history of redemption (Rancire 2001: 150). Each time,
redemption refers pejoratively to a break out of this world and a form
of apolitical passivity, in an attempt to reduce Deleuze to be a mere
spiritual thinker, simply renewing that Oriental intuition which
Hegel found at work in Spinozas philosophy (Hallward 2006: 6). But
is it all that simple? How should we envisage the relationship between
creativity and redemption, politics and passivity in Deleuzes work? And
in what way does that concern Deleuzes philosophy relation to the
It will become clear soon enough that I mostly disagree with
Hallwards rigorous yet quite reductive reading of Deleuze. As I shall
argue in more details, Hallwards spiritual anathema directed against
Deleuze, although suggestive in many ways, largely misses its target.
Nevertheless, I do believe it is important to give an echo to Hallwards
critique and to directly put into discussion the so-called spiritual
aspects and effects of Deleuzes philosophy. Spirituality is a tricky
word, and we can easily see how it can work as an insult, especially when
coming from the pure politics end of the contemporary philo-political
spectrum. Let me thus say for now that where Hallward wishes to nail
down Deleuzes philosophy using words like redemptive or spiritual,
I will read these characterisations as attempts to problematise the
(a)politicality of modes of existence induced by Deleuzes philosophy.
Avoiding the comfort zone of simply commenting (or joyfully
banging) on Hallwards rather disincarnated critique of Deleuzes
work, I will first try to briefly and reflexively address the production
of subjectivity in Deleuzian academic milieus. The idea here is to
give Hallwards critique some sort of anthropological and practical
ground, fleshing out Deleuzian processes of political subjectivation by
relating them to the emergence, in recent years, of a transnational
Deleuzian academic community and, to a certain extent, hegemony. This
committed or self-compromising characterisation of some potentially
undesirable side-effects that might derive from a Deleuzian stance
articulates around the danger, acknowledged by Deleuze in the first
place, of becoming beautiful souls through the affirmation of pure
differences. This first section could thus be read as a sort of distant
but potentially sympathetic echo to Hallwards repeated affirmation that

A Redemptive Deleuze?


Deleuzes thought is ultimately useless politically speaking, and that it is

better understood as a redemptive and deceptively academic way out
of this world.
I will then move to a more direct discussion of some of Hallwards
thesis, which he mainly develops in three different occasions: in a 1997
article entitled Gilles Deleuze and the Redemption from Interest, in
his 2001 book Absolutely Postcolonial, and most importantly in his
2006 monograph on Deleuze, Out of this World: Deleuze and the
Philosophy of Creation. The point will be to show just how unspecific,
instrumental and, in the end, little convincing Hallwards use of the
spiritual reference is in his inquiry into Deleuzes philosophy. This will
be followed by a rather contrasting reading of Deleuze focused on some
of the many choked passages he dramatically stages in his writings and
which are, symptomatically indeed, mostly overlooked by the Badiouinspired readings of his work. What is at stake here is Deleuzes method
of dramatisation and its culmination in what I will call a politics of
contraction innerving all of his work. Deleuzes dramatisations are of the
foremost importance if one is to seriously take into account his complex
and stimulating relation to the Non-West and namely, China.

I. The Problem of the Beautiful Soul

Give me a body then!
Deleuze 1989: 189

In the Hermeneutics of the Subject, Foucault defines spirituality as

an ethical work on oneself (un travail intrieur dordre thique).
Discussing the concrete social conditions of this ethical work, its relation
to the moral law and the kind of practical challenges it involves, Foucault
goes on to suggest that the care for the self and its ethopoietical effects
necessarily involve some form of contrasting social belonging:
The care of the self cannot appear and, above all, cannot be practiced simply
by virtue of being human as such, just by belonging to the human community,
although this membership is very important. It can only be practiced within
the group, and within the group in its distinctive character. (Foucault 2005:

I think that, for the sake of this article at least, Deleuzian milieus and the
intense affective commerce they generate are consisting and distinctive
enough to be envisaged not only as academic circles, but as potential
forms of the kind of spiritual or ethopoietic groups Foucault alludes to.

494 Erik Bordeleau

From this (insider) perspective, the first element that I would like to
discuss in echo to Hallwards critique is the danger of becoming beautiful
souls. As far as I know, Hallward does not directly use this term to
describe Deleuzes position; nonetheless, it is easy to imagine how he
could have done so, describing a Deleuzian subjectivity that refuses
acting, moving out of history and in order to preserve the purity of
its heart, flees from contact with actuality (Hegel 1967). Interestingly,
Deleuze himself discusses the problem of the beautiful soul in the preface
of Difference and Repetition and later in this same book:
There are certainly many dangers in invoking pure differences which have
become independent of the negative and liberated from the identical. The
greatest danger is that of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful
soul: there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from
bloody struggles. The beautiful soul says: we are different, but not opposed.
[. . . ] The notion of a problem, which we see linked to that of difference,
also seems to nurture the sentiments of the beautiful soul: only problems and
questions matter. (Deleuze 1994: xx; original emphasis)

This passage strikes me as a quite convincing description of an obvious

tendency among contemporary academic Deleuzians, a tendency
disturbingly compatible with communicational consensus and openended relational aesthetics. Indeed, it is easy to imagine how a
misunderstood philosophy of difference can very well blend with
existential liberalism, or how a vulgar understanding of Nietzsches
critics of resentment can fit with omnipresent psycho-pop positive
thinking and its horror of negative feelings. Here, one might think
of ieks famous characterisation of North Americans as natural-born
Deleuzians, suggesting that Deleuzes philosophy is perfectly suited for
late capitalist yuppies (iek 2004: 183). Or again, as Stengers puts
it in her discussion about how the capacities of practitioners must be
conceived of as situated: When it is a question of politics, even
cosmopolitics, this constraint is crucial if we are to avoid the trivial
dream of an angelic future: souls, now without bodies, would assume
a relationship of perpetual peace (Stengers 2011: 395).
Deleuze spells out the danger of the beautiful soul by asserting not
only the affirmative and potentially aggressive and selective power of
difference, but also the contractive power of wrath,1 although adding
that practical struggles or Revolution never proceed by way of the
negative (Deleuze 1994: 208). Significantly, as he contemplates the
danger of the beautiful soul, Deleuze ultimately invokes Marx as
some sort of political guarantee against it: Differences, nothing but

A Redemptive Deleuze?


differences, in a peaceful coexistence in the Idea of social places and

functions . . . but the name of Marx is sufficient to save [the philosophy
of Difference] from this danger (207). The idea of revolution deprived
of its negativity is not politically radical enough in the eyes of iek,
Hallward and the like. For them, the invocation of Marx here does not
preserve Deleuze from ultimately being a mere spiritual thinker, unable
to properly and wilfully face the abyss of the [revolutionary] act (iek
2002: 8).

II. Redemption or Dramatisation?

Hallwards reading of Deleuze aims to unveil the unifying redemptive
logic he finds at work in his philosophy. Part of the interest and
originality of Hallwards reading is that it gives great importance to
the idea of becoming-imperceptible, which he describes as the exclusive
telos and the redemptive re-orientation of any particular creature
towards its own dissolution (Hallward 2006: 3). I will propose an
alternative analysis of this undoubtedly crucial idea in the following
section. For now, suffice it to say that Hallward considers Deleuzes
philosophy as a way to escape the worlds actual constraints, a
dematerialising body of thought oriented by lines of flight that lead
out of the world (3), toward blissful virtuality. In this perspective,
becoming-imperceptible constitutes the utmost expression of Deleuzes
spiritual attempt at self-virtualisation.
Hallward situates Deleuzes thought as part of a late-modern revival
of post-theophanic conception of thought (Hallward 2006: 160), that is,
a conception of the world in which God expresses himself in all things,
and all things are an expression of God (5). Hallward considers that this
theophanic conception of the world merges with what he calls a singular
mode of individuation, defined as an ongoing, self-constituent process of
differentiation that creates its own medium of existence or expansion
(xii). Hallward identifies this logic of the singular as the main modus
operandi of postcolonial studies:
Singular configurations replace the interpretation or representation of reality
with an immanent participation in its production or creation: in the end,
at the limit of absolute postcoloniality, there will be nothing left, nothing
outside itself, to which it could be specific. (Hallward 2001: xii)

Opposed to that logic of the singular we find what Hallward calls the
specific, a mode of apprehending the real that takes into account the
actual constraints of the material and historical world. The specific is

496 Erik Bordeleau

the space of the historical as such [. . . ], the place where we make our
own history, but not in the circumstances of our choosing (Hallward
2001: xii). What matters here is how this specific, historical materialist
approach is said to allow for an active negotiation of relations and the
deliberate taking of sides, choices and risks (xii), while the singular
logic tends to dissolve any subjectsubject or subjectobject relation
into one beyond-subject (5). The keywords here are of course active,
deliberate, choices and risks, as opposed to a presumably passive
process of dissolution into the Oneness of Being.
That being said, what is most striking in Hallwards description of
Deleuzes project is how little specific he is in associating Deleuze with
just about any religious strands of thought. In his quite influential 1997
article Gilles Deleuze and the Redemption from Interest, Hallward even
draws a parallel between Deleuze and Saint Paul, simply because the
later also favours an other-worldly redemptive force (Hallward 1997:
6). This of course sounds retrospectively quite ironic when considering
that one of Hallwards main philosophical influences, Alain Badiou,
turns precisely to Paul in his Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism
(1997) in order to further exemplify his notion of the Truth-Event
and the conversion process of his subject to truth, as the title of
Hallwards book on Badiou goes.2 Fortunately though, in Absolutely
Postcolonial and Out of this World, Hallward becomes somewhat more
specific, dropping the reference to Paul and mostly insisting on Bergson,
Spinoza, Ibn-Arabi, Suhrawardi, Meister Eckhart, Plotin, Eurigena and
just about anybody part of the Neoplatonic tradition, suggesting that
Deleuzes project resonates with and renews that Oriental intuition
which Hegel found at work in Spinozas philosophy (Hallward 2006:
6).3 To understand just how all these references ultimately work as
an all-encompassing and virulent spiritual anathema, one has to keep
mind that in his book Absolutely Postcolonial, Hallward comes to define
the singular mode of individuation as some sort of creationist power,
thus suggesting that Deleuzes philosophy might best be approached
as the reinvention (in apparently post-Darwinian terms) of a genuinely
contemporary version of radical creationism (Hallward 2001: 15). In
the endnote following this excerpt, Hallward indeed reveals that the
title of the book on Deleuze he was working on at that time is entitled
Creationism in Philosophy: Deleuze (342). Fortunately, Hallward was
convinced in one way or another that it would be better to drop
this reference to creationism, which indeed is nowhere to be found
in what became Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of
Creation. Nevertheless, I do believe this anecdote is most significant,

A Redemptive Deleuze?


as it highlights Hallwards unspecific and largely instrumental use of the

spiritual reference in his inquiry into Deleuzes philosophy.4 In the end,
one might ask: if Hallward really wanted to tackle the issue of the socalled redemptive or spiritual dimension of Deleuzes thought, should he
not at least have considered minimally Deleuze and Guattaris crucial
references to Taoism and witchcraft in A Thousand Plateaus (1987),
those to Zen Buddhism in Logic of Sense (1990), or better still, his
explicit insistence on the theme of belief in the world in Time-Image
(1989) or to empiricist conversion in What Is Philosophy? (1994)?
A little bit further but still not out of reach, could he not have taken
a better look at Whiteheads crucial influence on Deleuzes cosmic
vitalism, and how it potentially intersects with Process theology?5
The main reason why Hallward believes he can call Deleuze a
redemptive philosopher without considering Deleuze and Guattaris
enunciative position as sorcerers in A Thousand Plateaus and their
almost indecent reference, academically speaking, to Carlos Castanedas
initiatory journey, and more generally, to anything that would bring
us closer to what in Anti-Oedipus (1983) is defined as the living
center of matter (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 19), has probably to
do with how he fully endorses Badious interpretation of univocal
ontology as a mere variation amongst neoplatonic philosophies of the
One. Here, I agree with Daniel Smith when he suggests that one
must not be led astray as [Alain Badiou seems to have been] by
the prefix uni in the term univocity: a univocal ontology is by
definition irreconcilable with a philosophy of the One (Smith 2001:
174). Along the same line, I would argue that Badious and Hallwards
overtly metaphysical readings hypostase Deleuzes dramatic movement
of thought, systematically missing the practical and ethical horizon
in which speculative propositions concerning univocity can be judged
properly is it not for this very reason that Spinozas ontology is
called an ethics? Hallward largely ignores the question of the modes
of existence and its corresponding material passages and ethical mises
en jeu. He consistently leaves aside all these moments where Deleuze
describes and stages movements of plunging into chaos, dramatic
passages on the line, struggles for creating planes of consistency, all of
which concern the lived relation to events in the first place. The whole
world had passed what seemed like a physical crisis point, Deleuze
writes in Difference and Repetition (Deleuze 1994: 189); The event,
once willed, is actualized on its most contracted point, on the cutting
edge of an operation (Deleuze 1990: 149); A concept is therefore a
chaoid state par excellence; it refers back to a chaos rendered consistent,

498 Erik Bordeleau

become Thought, mental chaosmos. And what would thinking be if it
did not constantly confront chaos? (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 208);
or again, on a more openly revolutionary mode:
We must condense all the singularities, precipitate all the circumstances,
points of fusion, congelation or condensation in a sublime occasion, Kairos,
which makes the solution explode like something abrupt, brutal and
revolutionary. Having an Idea is this as well. 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. [. . . ] Anger and love
are powers of the Idea. (Deleuze 1994: 1901)

With Hallward, we simply lose sight of this type of critical passage:

everything is said to divinely flow upward on some sort of philosophical
stairway to heaven, in a unilateral (and apolitical) movement toward
God and its own redemptive dissolution. Instead of putting so much
emphasis on the theophanic, it would have been much more interesting
to see Hallward discussing Deleuzes conception of the dynamic and
dramatic processes by which Ideas are actualised and differentiated. It
could have brought him to ask Deleuze, more than thirty years after
Maurice de Gandillac: Is your dramatization a theodicy? (Deleuze
2004: 107)
In the last instance, what is at stake here is Hallwards
transcendentalist and deeply voluntarist interpretation of creation in
Deleuzes philosophy. Like God, creation is everywhere in Hallwards
book: every single chapters title in Out of this World bears mention of
it. And even if he does not explicitly refer to creationism any more, one
cannot miss how he conceives of creation in a manner as voluntaristic
as a creationist might imagine Gods initial act of creation to be. If
Hallward proves himself to be so blind to the corporal and transversal
dimension of creative passages and transmutations in Deleuze, it is
because his radically voluntarist political stance makes him totally
oblivious to the question of the soul and its contractive power, or what
Deleuze, in the conclusion of What Is Philosophy?, calls the mystery of
passive creation, sensation (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 212). Deleuzes
cosmic vitalism indeed requires a conception of creation that is not
simply a matter of how to actively access God or the Truly Creative
as Hallward would like us to believe. It always involves an intimate
and complex relation to an outside felt as necessity and imposing its

A Redemptive Deleuze?


corporeal constraints. This is precisely what Deleuze means when, in a

crucial passage of Time-Image, he requires a (forced) body for thought:
Give me a body then: this is the formula of philosophical reversal. The body
is no longer the obstacle that separates thought from itself, that which it has
to overcome to reach thinking. It is on the contrary that which it plunges
into or must plunge into, in order to reach the unthought, that is life. Not
that the body thinks, but, obstinate and stubborn, it forces us to think, and
forces us to think what is concealed from thought, life. Life will no longer be
made to appear before the categories of thought; thought will be thrown into
the categories of life. The categories of life are precisely the attitudes of the
body, its posture. We do not even know what a body can do: in its sleep,
in its drunkenness, in its efforts and resistances. To think is to learn what
a non-thinking body is capable of, its capacity, its postures. (Deleuze 1989:

To put it in other words: one has to feel oneself as trapped (sprouver

coinc) (Deleuze 1989: 170), for creation takes place in choked
passages (Deleuze 1995: 133). Paradoxically enough considering
Hallwards view on the matter, it is perhaps the very idea of becomingimperceptible and its embedded reference to China that best illustrates
how creation in choked passages and dramatic becomings actually take
place in a Deleuzian perspective.

III. China and the Line6

To have become a line was a catastrophe, but, even more, it was a surprise,
a prodigy. All of me had to pass along this line. And with the most appalling
Henri Michaux [1956] 2002: ch. 5, Experimental Schizophrenia; my emphasis

At the core of Hallwards peremptory dismissal of Deleuzes

philosophys political relevance, we find the concept of becomingimperceptible. And at first sight, Hallward does seem to have a point:
for what does it mean to pass along the lines of creation and becomeimperceptible, if not to vanish and dissolve in cosmic anonymity? Is that
all that Deleuzian micropolitics has to offer? In what sense is becomingimperceptible supposed to allow for renewed ways of conceiving the
production of political subjectivities in a time of media saturation and
global mobilisation? In what way does it contribute to a redemptive
interruption of the flow of information or connect with Deleuze and
Guattaris famous statement about how, nowadays, we do not lack

500 Erik Bordeleau

communication [. . . ] we lack resistance to the present? (Deleuze and
Guattari 1994: 108)
Considering Hallwards spiritual anathema and the way he confines
Deleuzes philosophy to be a mere theophanic extension of some
oriental intuition, what is most delightfully striking perhaps in the
unfolding of the idea of becoming-imperceptible is to see just how
embedded in the Far East it appears to be in the first place. For a
close reading of Deleuze and Guattaris A Thousand Plateaus reveals
something that has remained relatively unnoticed among Deleuze
and Guattaris readers: the progressive emergence of the concept of
becoming-imperceptible in that book is intimately intertwined with
references to China, the main one referring to the figure of the Chinese
traditional painter-poet. Significantly, while going into much detail
when elaborating his wild spiritual orientalist argument about a posttheophanic Deleuze with the becoming-imperceptible for exclusive
telos, Hallward simply ignores the very poetics of this crucial idea,
which is not theophanic at all and refers to what could arguably
be considered one of Deleuzes (and Guattaris) most significant
engagements with the Non-West in his work namely China.7
The first reference to China in A Thousand Plateaus is made right
in the introduction, amidst a discussion opposing transcendence and
the search for the root-foundation, a specifically European disease as
Deleuze and Guattari say (1987: 18), and oriental immanence and its
rhizomatic structure. Of course it is all too easy to depict an Orient of
rhizomes and immanence, they write (20); and in fact, they do not insist
much on this contrast. But it is in this context that an image appears, an
image that will permeate the entire book, that of grass:
China is the weed in the human cabbage patch. . . . The weed is the Nemesis
of human endeavor. . . . Of all the imaginary existences we attribute to plant,
beast and star the weed leads the most satisfactory life of all. [. . . ] Eventually
the weed gets the upper hand. Eventually things fall back into a state of China.
The weed exists only to fill the waste spaces left by cultivated areas. It grows
between, among other things. The lily is beautiful, the cabbage is provender,
the poppy is maddeningbut the weed is rank growth . . . : it points a moral.
(Miller, cited in Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 1819)

This first reference, through Henry Millers work (it is a quote from
his Hamlet), is quite unaccommodating, seemingly giving way to
an unrestricted orientalism. But A Thousand Plateaus is not exactly
concerned with questions about adequate or politically correct crosscultural representation or of how to talk properly of the cultural other.

A Redemptive Deleuze?


In fact, if they do question rapidly the validity of such a delirious

description of a weed China, they immediately redirect this interrogation
into an openly prospective sense: Which China is Miller talking about?
The old China, the new, an imaginary one, or yet another located
on a shifting map? (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 19) The question of
an adequate representation of the cultural other is thus methodically
let in abeyance. Methodically, that is, insofar as the introduction of
A Thousand Plateaus seeks to define a method not so much to describe
but to effectively reach for the multiple.
The first seven chapters of A Thousand Plateaus read as so many
approaches toward a radical critique of psychoanalysis, linguistics and
ultimately, of the problem of the signifier. Progressively, the idea
of making the multiple takes shape, through concepts like collective
assemblages of enunciation (agencement collectif dnonciation) and the
Body without Organs, up to the asserted necessity of undoing the face:
If human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face, to dismantle
the face and facializations, to become imperceptible, to become clandestine,
not by returning to animality, nor even by returning to the head, but by
quite spiritual and special becomings-animal, by strange true becomings that
get past the wall and get out of the black holes, that make faciality traits
themselves finally elude the organization of the face. (Deleuze and Guattari
1987: 171)

The expression escaping the face marks a distance in relation to

antagonistic models (face-to-face politics, so to speak), and defines a
micropolitical field characterised by the exigency to dis-occupy identity.
It is in the midst of this philosophical journey that we find the second
Chinese reference, which comes up in a totally unexpected way a
rapturous line of flight: Cross the wall, the Chinese perhaps, but at
what price? At the price of a becoming-animal, a becoming-flower or
rock, and beyond that a strange becoming-imperceptible, a becominghard now one with loving (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 187). If the
Chinese reference here remains quite unspecific (which Chinese are we
in fact talking about?), its direction and its function, nonetheless, are
indisputable: it is a breach made in the horizon of the signifier, a
vanishing point from which to organise an escape. But this remains
nevertheless all too abstract. We lack an indispensable relay between
making the multiple, undoing the face and becoming-imperceptible:
art, an artistic doing, which the third reference makes more intelligible.
The conception of art exposed in A Thousand Plateaus takes on
the developments on incorporeal transformations and the shaping up

502 Erik Bordeleau

of bodies that were initiated in the discussion on linguistics and the
signifier. For Deleuze and Guattari, it is never something like art for
arts sake that is at stake, but a conception of art that directly involves
Art is never an end in itself; it is only a tool for blazing life lines, in other
words, all of those real becomings that are not produced only in art, and all
of those active escapes that do not consist in fleeing into art, taking refuge in
art, and all of those positive deterritorializations that never reterritorialize on
art, but instead sweep it away with them toward the realms of the asignifying,
asubjective, and faceless. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 187)

Deleuze and Guattari insist repeatedly on the active nature of the line
of flight, which is never a flight into passivity or imagination. If that was
the case, it would immediately lose its political dimension, as Hallward
misguidedly suggests. The theme of the line, which runs through all of A
Thousand Plateaus, ties together art, politics, ethics and the cosmic. And
it is precisely in this passage from ethics to the cosmic that we find the
third reference to China. In the chapter Becoming-intense, Becominganimal, Becoming-imperceptible, the work on oneself and the cosmic
dimension it involves are summed up in the idea of becoming like
everybody else. First, the properly ethical challenges are brought forth:
If it is so difficult to be like everybody else, it is because it is an affair of
becoming. Not everybody becomes everybody [and everything: tout le monde
trans.], makes a becoming of everybody/everything. This requires much
asceticism, much sobriety, much creative involution: an English elegance, an
English fabric, blend in with the walls, eliminate the too-perceived, the toomuch-to-be-perceived. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 279)

Deleuze and Guattari insist on the very materiality of this work of

elimination and reduction at the level of the living tissues of the human.
They then write: By process of elimination, one is no longer anything
more than an abstract line (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 280). What
matters here is that this becoming-line involves a radical putting at stake
of existence, in the realm of impersonality. Becoming-line is a highly
dramatic contraction a life in one stroke, a stroke of life.
To become-line is never to close oneself up: on the contrary,
it is an essential condition to communicability and availability, a
way to directly participate in the gestation of the world. Becoming
everybody/everything (tout le monde) is to world (faire monde), to
make a world (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 280). Drawing lines that
world: this is the meaning of the becoming-imperceptible and everybody
put forth in A Thousand Plateaus. It is in this very passage of the

A Redemptive Deleuze?


becoming-line and the making-world that we find the third Chinese

reference, which is undoubtedly the most serious and suggestive one.
At the meeting point of ethics and the cosmic, Deleuze and Guattari
encounter the traditional Chinese painter-poet as described by Franois
Cheng in Lcriture potique chinoise. A painter-poet that, instead of
pursuing the resemblance, retain[s], extract[s] only the essential lines
and movements of nature (280): an artist-abstractor that is therefore
not imitative or structural, but cosmic (280). The Chinese artist
invoked in A Thousand Plateaus is the figure who, after ethical work
on herself, is able to make of the world a becoming, to pass entirely
along the lines she draws, in the impersonality of creation. One is then
like grass, Deleuze and Guattari finally say, because one has made a
necessarily communicating world, because one has suppressed in oneself
everything that prevents us from slipping between things and growing in
the midst of things (280). It is perhaps Li He, a Buddhist Chinese poet of
the late Tang dynasty, who best sums up this etho-cosmic participative
becoming with the world:
The brush perfects the creation
Heaven has not all the merit! (Cheng 1996: 17)

After this close reading of the emerging of the idea of becomingimperceptible in A Thousand Plateaus, a question remains: does
the micropolitical horizon of thought, culminating in the idea of
becoming-imperceptible, really lead to any actual production of political
subjectivities? Do we not find in it the seed of a form of life exclusively
concerned with existential flexibility and ways of adapting to all
circumstances, in brief, a perfect guide for survival in the era of
neoliberal productivism and globalisation of precariousness? Rancire,
for example, is categorical: indirectly criticising Deleuze among others
and disqualifying any focus put on metamorphosis and becomings, he
unambiguously states: There is no such thing as Dionysian politics
(Rancire 1998: 200).
The becoming-imperceptible and the becoming-line involve a dramatic
experience of stifling or of ethopoietical claustrophobia, as Wittgenstein
would put it. There lies the politics of contraction that innerves all
of Deleuzes work: choked passages where one experiences oneself as
stuck, plunges into chaos from which no one comes back unscathed.
A Thousand Plateaus reference to Henri Michaux is crucial here, with
his evocation of major ordeals of the mind and other miserable
miracles, accelerated linearity experienced in the flesh and moments of
schizophrenia that tear down the sphere that we normally are and in

504 Erik Bordeleau

which we survey panoramas (Michaux [1956] 2002: ch. 5). Michauxs
description of the passage along the line (cited in the epigraph of this
section) expresses a sense of danger, a perilous threshold, a challenge
which is simultaneously intimate and tearing off the outside: to become
a line, only a line, the horror of a line along which all of me had to
pass. This all of me suggests something both necessary and exhaustive:
the concentration of oneself must be total; its achievement cannot suffer
any failing; it is all or nothing. It is by this very condition, it is according
to this capacity or power that the body can find and create new marks.
The passage along the line entails a transformative interruption of the
ordinary relation to oneself. It involves a performative moment on
the line, in which the movement of abstraction ensures its unity, or
better, its watertightness. The becoming-line is a moment of sustained
tension, a moment of anonymity in the surpassing of oneself, a dramatic
desubjectivation that ultimately amounts to an interruption of the
identity service. And this process of desubjectivation can as well give
way to a becoming-Chinese.

IV. (Un)timely Contractions

In the conclusion of Out of this World, Hallward claims that by posing
the question of politics [. . . ] in the apocalyptic terms of a new people and
a new earth [. . . ], the political aspect of Deleuzes philosophy amounts
to little more than utopian distraction (Hallward 2006: 162). In the
light of this article, we can easily imagine that what Hallward intends
by apocalyptic politics is yet another way to evoke the redemptive
dissolution of all things in the ecstatic process of absolute creation.
Yet, to a certain extent, I agree with Hallward that Deleuzes politics
does involve some sort of apocalyptic component. One might think of
Difference and Repetitions foreword here, with its somewhat cryptic
affirmation that this book should have been an apocalyptic book (the
third time in the series of times) (Deleuze 1994: xxi); or again, in
the conclusion of What Is Philosophy?, where we read that as the
brain plunges into chaos, In this submersion it seems that there is
extracted from chaos the shadow of the people to come in the form
that art, but also philosophy and science, summon forth (Deleuze and
Guattari 1994: 218). But instead of interpreting these passages in terms
of ethereal or utopian dissolution, I believe we should read them in terms
of ethical, aesthetical, political and, ultimately, temporal contractions.
Redemption? A limit happens and in its drawing, a virtual becomingline.

A Redemptive Deleuze?


In this regard, and as far as a people to come is concerned, I would

suggest, following Agambens distinction in The Time that Remains,
that the word messianic is more accurate than apocalyptic to describe
this process of temporal-liminal contraction. For are we not intimately
confronted here with the very necessity of a time-image, that is, not an
image of the end of time (apocalypse proper), but rather an image to
bring (chronological) time to an end a messianic or contracted time
thus understood as the time the mind takes to realize a time-image
(Agamben 2005: 66)? What matters here is how value is introduced in
the world, or in other words, how a certain mode of existence is intensified and brought to its creative limit. To believe in the world, then, is
indiscernibly active and passive; it is to contemplate and be contracted.
It is a convincing account of this movement of exacerbation
of difference or (un)timely contraction which is utterly missing in
Hallwards reading of Deleuze. Nowhere is it clearer than at the very
point where Badiou paradigmatically extracts, in a typical bad-faithsubject-to-truth way, the expression that will become his war cry against
Deleuze: the Clamor of Being. As is well known, the expression is
taken from the very last lines of Difference and Repetition, which read
as follows: A single and same voice for the whole thousand-voiced
multiple, a single and same Ocean for all the drops, a single clamor of
Being for all beings: [. . . ]. Everything happens as if Badiou has stopped
reading at this point and refuses to consider what follows the colon, that
is, the affirmation of the disjunctive and dramatic play of difference and
repetition as such: . . . on condition that each being, each drop and
each voice has reached the state of excess in other words, the difference
which displaces and disguises them and, in turning upon its mobile cusp,
causes them to return (Deleuze 1994: 304).
If we define politics as a matter of contraction in the element of ethics,
the problem of believing in this world becomes politically crucial and
should not be confused with any simple wilful belief or will of the
people, as the title goes of one recent article by Hallward. In order to be
brought to a level of political intensity, the problem of believing in the
world, in this specific world, requires envisaging a singular end to it its
Eternal Return, in the terms of Difference and Repetition. A singular end
thus, so that
Difference may at last be expressed with a force of anger which is itself
repetitive and capable of introducing the strangest selection, even if this is
only a contraction here and there in other words, a freedom for the end of a
world. (Deleuze 1994: 293; my emphasis)

506 Erik Bordeleau

1. Nevertheless, we believe that when these problems attain their proper degree
of positivity, and when difference becomes the object of a corresponding
affirmation, they release a power of aggression and selection which destroys
the beautiful soul by depriving it of its very identity and breaking its good will
(Deleuze 1994: xx; original emphasis).
2. Hallward would probably reject this rapprochement altogether, since he
disagrees in the first place with ieks idea that religious revelation is the
unavowed paradigm of his [Badious] notion of the Truth-Event (iek 2000:
183), arguing instead that the model for Badious fidelity is not religious faith
but mathematical deduction pure and simple (Hallward 2003: 149).
3. Perhaps due to the excitement of having found yet another religious reference
in Deleuzes writing, Hallward symptomatically misreads a reference to Zen
Buddhism in What Is Philosophy? (Hallward 2001: 11), missing the yet simple
fact that in this passage, Deleuze and Guattari establish a correspondence
between Zen Buddhism and Wittgensteinian silence of logic, not with their own
philosophy (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 140). For a more conclusive reference
to Zen Buddhism in Deleuzes philosophy, Hallward should have looked, for
instance, at the passages in Logic of Sense where he discusses the wise (stoic)
mans humoristic stance and the ethics of the mime.
4. Hallwards demeaning use of the word creationism should therefore be
radically contrasted with Guattaris axiological creationism. The (Guattarian)
creationist perspective celebrates the existence of every given type of being
that specifically poses the question of what counts for its mode of life.
Axiological creationism concerns the production of existence for everything for
which existence implies a gamble, a risk, the creation of a point of view
about what, from then on, will become a milieu (Stengers 2010: 37). Note that
Guattaris notion of creationism involves a radical implication in the world and
the production of a highly specific mode of existence.
5. For an interesting discussion of the partly missed encounter between Deleuze
and Process Theology, see Isabelle Stengers, Beyond Conversation. The Risks of
Peace (2002).
6. This section is a condensed and revised version of La Chine et la ligne. Une
tude de la rfrence chinoise dans Mille Plateaux (Bordeleau 2009).
7. In Deleuzes later books, there are at least three other significant references to
the East, each of them being irreducible to Hallwards simplistic theophanic
schema. In his Foucault, the Far East is associated with a culture of annihilation
(Deleuze 1988: 106); in The Fold, with what he calls the Eastern line as opposed
to the full Baroque line. Then, in What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze discusses his
notion of the plane of immanence in contrast with Franois Julliens idea of an
absolutisation of immanence found in antic Chinese thinking (Deleuze 1994:
74). From the perspective of the production of subjectivities, it is certainly
the passage in Foucault that is most interesting. In the chapter Foldings, or
the Inside of Thought, a certain Orient is opposed to the Western subjective
folding: The appearance of a folding of the outside can seem unique to Western
development. Perhaps the Orient does not present such a phenomenon, and the
line of the outside continues to flow across a stifling hollowness: in that case
asceticism would be a culture of annihilation or an effort to breathe in such a
void, without any particular production of subjectivity (Deleuze 1988: 106). For
a more detailed discussion of this passage in relation with the Chinese-Buddhist
idea of inferno, see Bordeleau 2013.

A Redemptive Deleuze?


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Deleuze, Gilles (1990) Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester, New York: Columbia
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Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York:
Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles (1995) Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin, New York: Columbia
University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles (2004) Desert Islands and Other Texts 19531974, trans. Michael
Taormina, New York: Semiotext(e).
Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (1983) Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark
Seem and Helen R. Lane, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian
Massumi, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (1994) What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh
Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press.
Foucault, Michel (2005) The Hermeneutics of the Subject, trans. Graham Burchell,
New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Hallward, Peter (1997) Gilles Deleuze and the Redemption from Interest, Radical
Philosophy, N.81, pp. 621.
Hallward, Peter (2001) Absolutely Postcolonial, New York: Manchester University
Hallward, Peter (2003) Badiou: A Subject to Truth, Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.
Hallward, Peter (2006) Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation,
New York: Verso.
Hegel, Georg W. F. (1967) The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B.
Baillie, available at < https:// www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/
ph/phc2cc.htm > (accessed 18 July 2014).
Michaux, Henri [1956] (2002) Miserable Miracle, trans. Louise Varese, New
York: NYRB Classics, available at < http://www.lycaeum.org/books/books/
miserablemiracle/miserablemiracle.html > (accessed 18 July 2014).
Rancire, Jacques (1998) La Chair des mots: Politiques de lcriture, Paris: Galile.
Rancire, Jacques (2001) La Fable cinmatographique, Paris: Seuil.
Smith, Daniel (2001) The Doctrine of Univocity: Deleuzes Ontology of
Immanence, in Mary Bryden (ed.), Deleuze and Religion, London: Routledge.
Stengers, Isabelle (2002) Beyond Conversation: The Risks of Peace, in Catherine
Keller and Anne Daniell (eds), Process and Difference: Between Cosmological and
Poststructuralist Postmodernisms, Albany: State of New York Press, pp. 23555.

508 Erik Bordeleau

Stengers, Isabelle (2010) Cosmopolitics I: The Science Wars, trans. Robert Bononno,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Stengers, Isabelle (2011) Cosmopolitics II: The Curse of Tolerance, trans. Robert
Bononno, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
iek, Slavoj (2000) The Ticklish Subject, New York: Verso.
iek, Slavoj (2002) Revolution at the Gates, New York: Verso.
iek, Slavoj (2004) Organs without Bodies, New York: Routledge.

Deleuze, the (Si)neo-realist Break

and the Emergence of Chinese

David H. Fleming

University of Nottingham Ningbo China

By creatively expanding Deleuzes concept of the time-image crystal,
I productively fold together and engineer an encounter between two
comparable cinematic movements otherwise separated by huge vistas
of time and space. Here, I work to plicate the post-war Italian
neorealist movement which Deleuze saw inaugurating the modern
cinema, with a postsocialist mainland Chinese movement that I
playfully call (si)neo-realism. The films of both historical moments
formulate comparable break-away cinemas which are often considered
moral or socially responsible art cinemas best approached through
Andr Bazins ontological film philosophy lens. By using Deleuze,
however, I hope to move beyond these realist discussions to explore
how both movements are also fruitfully thought in terms of introducing
distinct yet analogous mental relations into the image during historical
junctures defined by radically transforming psycho-geographies. Like
Deleuzes discussions of neorealism, (si)neo-realism is considered a
loose impulse or mode that collectively bears witness to confusing
and bewildering mental experiences from within a turbulent period
of cultural, ideological and historical upheaval: which demands new
ways of perceiving, thinking and acting. Without wanting to fall into
a problematic auteur paradigm, I necessarily employ the films of Wang
Xiaoshuai as emblematic examples of the wider impulse or trend.
Indeed, Wangs films perfectly reify a new ethico-aesthetic form of
Chinese cinema marked by a proliferation of new spaces, characters,
Deleuze Studies 8.4 (2014): 509541
DOI: 10.3366/dls.2014.0168
Edinburgh University Press

510 David H. Fleming

experiences and narrative structures. Here, I also strive to do what
Deleuze did not in his writing upon film, and explore the breakups, breakdowns and breakthroughs in specific relation to a complex
contextual web of political and cinematic ecosystems. Throughout this
process I try to put Deleuze to work by using the films and context to reinterrogate and re-evaluate the time-image models as they appear within
and across his Cinema books.
Keywords: Deleuze, Chinese cinema, Andr Bazin, neorealism, timeimages

I. Introduction
Since the 1990s, mainland Chinas biggest contender for an alternative
or break-away cinema has been pinned to a loose band of maverick
directors hailing from what has variously been called the Postsocialist,
Post-Wave, Newborn-, Sixth-, Post-Sixth-, or Urban-Generation of
filmmakers. This mixed grab bag of directors boasts state-school
graduates from the Fifth-, Sixth- and D-Generations respectively,
alongside a wider cohort of amateur and non-professionals.2 The films
are usually assembled on account of a perceived predilection for an
unpolished style, raw gritty realism, Art film ethico-aesthetics, or for
unflinchingly focusing upon social problems affecting the cultures nonofficial underbelly. Over the past twenty years the impulse has often
been branded an underground, avant-garde or if one buys into the
self-aggrandising myths illegal cinema.3 If we uncritically accept the
Banned in Beijing branding many of these films receive, we also
necessarily confront one of film historys most glaring ironies. For
these films are deemed inappropriate on account of exposing issues
of class inequality, powerlessness and systemic corruption confronting
individuals (and groups) under an insidious system of capitalism and
foreign influence (globalisation): which is to say, exactly the sort of
stories previously sought by the ruling Party to propagandise and
extol the virtues of communism. Beyond this historical repetition (or
Nietzschean return) in the form of political farce, any opprobrium
or unfavourable domestic reception must be linked to the filmmakers
adoption of a warts-and-all docu-style that seditiously records Chinas
profoundly uneven and unprecedentedly rapid process of modernisation
and globalisation.
The new impulse crystallised in Wang Xiaoshuais The Days (1993)
and Zhang Yuans Beijing Bastards (1994), with both being observed

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


to blur the boundaries between documentary and fiction in Chinese

cinema for the first time. Each embraced a low-budget on the street
video style, to relate dispersed and distended narratives that traced the
interweaving lives of disaffected artists and social outsiders. Thereafter
a growing wave of stark realist films including Postman (1995), On
the Beat (1995), Pickpocket (1997), So Close to Paradise (1998), I
Love Beijing (2000), Beijing Bicycle (2001), The World (2003), Blind
Shaft (2003), Drifters (2003) and Lost in Beijing (2007) aesthetically,
formally and politically (or in various combinations thereof) followed
suit, by focusing upon disempowered characters confronting new social
problems and ideological/identity issues.4 By sharing common ethicoaesthetic characteristics, the films can be understood as delimiting the
territories of a loose movement or style which typically focuses upon
disempowered or disenfranchised agents, underclass migrants or adultchildren struggling to come to terms with Chinas rapidly transforming
socio-political psycho-geography.
The multiplicit movement is often understood as marking a decisive
break with Chinas established artistic and literary cinematic traditions;
especially its national and nation-building models. The decidedly alien
politics and aesthetic have often forced domestic and foreign critics
to seek international trends or movements for comparison, or to help
describe the texture and feel of the new impulse. The renewed drive
for stark social (as opposed to socialist or revolutionary) realism, for
instance, leads many to compare the trend to a post-war European
vrit or neorealist style (see inter alia Wright 2001; Zhang Yingjin
2006, 2007; Berry 2006, 2007; Johnson 2006; Tonglin Lu 2006;
Braester 2007; Reynaud 2007). Such discourses often emerge alongside
a renewed critical encounter with Andr Bazins neorealist exegesis
and/or ontological writings. And although these coordinates remain
useful, and undoubtedly enrich any consideration of the Chinese films,
I maintain that beyond the obvious drive for higher levels of social
realism, the films also appear symptomatic of a more fundamental
philosophical and ideological rupture, which erects thought-provoking
parallels with Deleuzes philosophical writing on the neorealist tradition.
Taking Deleuzes lead, I argue that the Chinese films can also be
understood as part of a wider response to comparably disorienting and
confusing experiences emerging in the wake of disjunctive and disruptive
historical events. Indeed, many critics discuss the Chinese films reflecting
a cultural zeitgeist, or marking a significant paradigm shift (Lai
2007: 232) in Chinese filmmaking linked to a wider existential crisis
(Zhang Yingjin 2007: 49). Such views also invoke Deleuzes writing

512 David H. Fleming

upon the Italian post-war cinema, then, and can help account for a
motific loosening of action-image drives, the introduction of new mutant
characters, the breaking down of traditional ways of perceiving and
acting, and the introduction of new mental relations into the image.
Elsewhere I ultimately maintain that these films set the scene for the
full-blown emergence of a PRC time-image within Lou Yes Suzhou
River (2000): a film I read as an autodidactic philosophical equivalent to
Last Year in Marienbad (1961), and which for Deleuze, following Andr
Labarthe, was the apogee and last of the great neo-realist films (see
Deleuze 2005b: 7; Fleming 2014).5
For me, the Chinese impulse autodidactically reifies or transmutates
what Bazin and Deleuze each saw as the most important features
and enduring value of the neorealist event. Although some critics
have already employed distinctly Deleuzo-Guattarian labels including
minor (Zhen 2007: 1) or nomadic (Johnson 2006: 49) to describe
this alternative film movement, I argue that Deleuzes neorealist timeimage models offer the best ethico-aesthetic fit for explaining and
understanding the wider movement. Conceptually expanding Deleuzes
time-image crystalline model allows us to fold together, and engineer an
encounter between, two historical movements otherwise separated by
huge vistas of time and space. Here, plicating the post-war neorealist
movement with a postsocialist mainland cinema that I playfully call
(si)neo-realism.6 For the sake of space, I predominantly limit analysis
to key similarities and commonalities flowing between the movements
at the expense of differences, which are obviously multiple and vary in
degrees. In passing we could enumerate the appearance of newer digital
spaces and virtual communication realms opened up and explored in the
modern Chinese films (such as the animated SMS spaces in The World,
or the computer game realms in Beijing Bicycle), or the unique and key
role of female directors in the Chinese movement (like Ning Ying or
Li Yu, for example), or even some differences that are quasi-similarities,
such as both movements employing operatic sounds from their respective
national traditions to score images of poor marginal characters.
Although I necessarily skirt the work of multiple directors in a
compare and contrast fashion, space dictates I limit the focus to the
work of Wang Xiaoshuai, who offers himself up as the best fit for this
particular exercise, not only because his films inaugurated the (si)neorealist trend, but also because they remain emblematic of the wider
impulse as the new millennium unfolded. What is more, in films such
as The Days, So Close to Paradise, Beijing Bicycle and Drifters, Wang
forces viewers to engage with time as a pertinent theme or loaded

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


and spatialised trope. More pragmatically, Wang also literally serves

to bridge the Italian and Chinese traditions in both his capacity as
board member for the BigScreen Italia film festival (a festival exclusively
dedicated to links between Chinese and Italian cinemas) and on account
of directing Beijing Bicycle (Seventeen Year Olds Bicycle in its Chinese
formulation), which is an overt homage to, and expansion upon, Vittorio
De Sicas 1948 masterpiece The Bicycle Thieves: which Bazin felt
formulated the ultimate expression of neorealism (Bazin 1999: 205).
As Beijing Bicycle constitutes Wangs most commercial and
internationally famous film to date, I use it here as a path into his lesser
known or distributed works (and the movement more generally). Beyond
being an updating and transmutation of an earlier film, Beijing Bicycle
can be understood as an expansion of De Sicas work because it follows
the dispersed and fragmented story of two interconnected characters
linked by one stolen bicycle, as opposed to De Sicas sole focus upon
Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani). Beijing Bicycle first follows the story of
the migrant worker Guei (Cui Lin) who uses the bike as a courier after
having moved to Beijing from the countryside. The following section
introduces a Beijing schoolboy called Jian (Li Bin) who buys the bike in
a narrative ellipsis after it has been stolen from Guei. The film thereafter
cuts back and forth between two patchwork assemblages of places,
characters, relationships and desires that constitute the characters lives.
We follow Gueis hopeless search around Beijing for his missing bike, his
somewhat contrived (unrealistic?) chance re-encounter, and subsequent
battle to get it back from Jian; whom he and the audience assume stole
it. Viewers learn Jian legitimately bought the bike on the black market,
though, and we see how the prized libidinal (Lin 2009: 98) commodity
helps him get a girlfriend and acceptance from bicycle-gang peers. The
films ethical texture is complicated by learning that Jian bought the bike
illegally because his father failed to deliver on a promise: to gift him one
if he succeeded at school. The boys thereafter attempt a doomed (quasisocialist) time-share agreement, but problems and violence follow the
bike, until the film ends with the brutal destruction of the bicycle and
the savage murder of a gang member.
Wang employs the bike as a loaded and load-bearing prop, then, to
help expose the changing reality of Beijing (and by extension China)
as a material and ideological space and place, and as a tool to open
up some of the different concomitant and heterotopic realities facing
migrant and city people within the same mental-material spaces. Beyond
its representational value, the bike also serves to affectively bring to the
fore newer forms of implanted capitalist desire associated with objects

514 David H. Fleming

and commodities under Chinas rapid process of modernisation and
globalisation. Besides plot and dispersed narrative structure, though, we
must also question how it is that this film, or indeed the wider movement
to which Wang belongs, reflects Italian neorealism as a historical
movement and as a philosophical cinema that provokes or stimulates
new ways of perceiving and thinking. To do this we have to begin
plugging Deleuzes film-philosophy into the sino-cinematic mode, albeit
refraining from uncritically forcing Deleuzes (predominantly European)
models onto or over an unwitting and uninviting Chinese movement. In
striving to put the Deleuzian theory to work, we must also use the films
to re-interrogate Deleuzes Cinema project, then, and employ the (si)neorealist cinema to rethink the factors and conditions Deleuze originally
attributed to the global shift from movement- to time-image categories.
By using this modern Chinese movement to rethink Deleuzes filmphilosophy on fresh terrain, this project necessarily follows in the
wake of David Martin-Joness pioneering work into world cinemas
that threaten to destabilise Deleuzes Cinema project. Martin-Jones
repeatedly illuminates how non-European films challenge us to refine,
adapt and develop Deleuzes global distinction between movementand time-image regimes: whilst themselves encouraging a productive
deterritorialisation of his models in relation to a wider cinematic context.
Martin-Jones examines how Hong Kong films (a non-mainland Chinese
national cinema) leading up to and overlapping the 1997 handover, for
example, expressively toys with movement- and time-images as part of
a wider response to an intense period of socio-political turbulence. He
here deepens our understanding of how notions of national identity are
historically constructed or delimited by film (Martin-Jones 2006). In
Deleuze and World Cinemas (2011) he further deterritorialises Deleuzes
Eurocentric models by exploring yet more moments of global crisis
emerging during other historical junctures, all the while stressing that to
better understand world cinemas, scholars must practise what Deleuze
did not, and re-situate or re-connect discussions with the surrounding
rhizomatic web of economic, social, historical, geopolitical and cultural
forces affecting the cultures and filmmakers (Martin-Jones 2011: 16).
Taking heed, I thus strive to contextualise the emergence of this new
break by situating it within the historical and cultural (and cinematic)
events that help constitute the before and after of the movement-event. I
thereafter work to draw out Deleuze and Bazins different philosophical
approaches to neorealism, before using Deleuze to explore the aesthetic
and stylistic features that link together this Chinese impulse with the
earlier Italian movement. At this point, then, we must first turn to the

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


disjunctive or disruptive concept of a historical or cinematic break

typically used to frame and contextualise both movements, as this in
part factored into what interested both Bazin and Deleuze in neorealism
in the first place.

II. On Clean Breaks and Breakdowns

Deleuze argued the most decisive break in cinematic history was
grounded in the aftermath of World War II, and was related to the
breakdown of older ideological systems and the emergence of new
experiences of space-time fostered by a devastated post-war situation
and new atomic age. In cinematic terms, these contributed to a shift
away from the classical action-image era of storytelling towards a
new modulating (art cinema) time-image mode in the (predominantly)
European context (Deleuze 2000). This period was concomitant with
a return to cinematic or artistic zero by the Italian filmmakers who
politically sought to escape cinematic artifice and escapism (qua
mindless entertainment). Much ink has already been spilled over the
historical conditions and cultural context that Italian neorealism marks
a break from. Deleuze, for example, predominantly linked it with a
break from an American or Hollywood tradition, but it is also fruitful
to point out that neorealism also marked a national break from the
micro-fascist escapist cinema of Mussolini. It is well known to nearly
all Western film students that since the mid to late 1930s Italian cinema
was tightly imbricated with church and fascist politics under Mussolinis
Ministry of Popular Culture. And that after nationalising the industry,
the Italian Dictator controlled filmmakers by schooling them at the
new Centro Spermentale di Cinematografia: a state-sponsored filmschool that encouraged the production of escapist white telephone films
which idealised patriarchal power and promoted obedience to state
and family. With the advent of synchronised sound, Mussolini strove
to foster a unified national identity by eliminating regional dialects or
accents from domestic screens, forcing films to address audiences in an
official standardised Italian for the first time. Until relatively recently,
far less was taught about Chinese cinematic history and traditions in
the Western university circuit, and although this is something being
redressed by many institutions today, it is worth while taking time to
sketch out what exactly constitutes the before and after of the (si)neorealist movement.
We can begin with the founding of the Peoples Republic of
China (PRC) in 1949, when the film industry was first nationalised.

516 David H. Fleming

Since then, Chinese filmmakers were retroactively and teleologically
arranged into a chronological progression of generations, backdated to
the First Generation of silent pioneers. The newly nationalised industry
then began operating under the strict control of the Chinese Communist
Partys (CCP) Ministry of Culture, who no longer viewed film as
entertainment, art or business. As the Party began exploring cinemas
political potentials, the production of films began to dramatically
increase, albeit from pre-production stages through scripting, shooting,
post-production and distribution it was now open to the scrutiny and
demands of various censorship bodies (Zhang Yingjin 2004: 191). If film
was to be an important political tool, it was recognised that it would
first have to start reaching greater numbers of Chinese citizens. This
was immediately addressed, and by the end of 1950, 100 million extra
people were able to watch new nation-building films: courtesy of the
CCP training armies of projection teams, opening new exhibition sites,
and creating 15,000 mobile projection units designed to take cinema
to the remotest regions (see Zhang Yingjin 2004: 1902; Bordwell and
Thompson 2003: 405).
Zhang Yingjin argues the first waves of national cinema typically took
the form of war films like The Bridge (1949), designed to rewrite modern
history as a teleological process (or action-image qua Deleuze) wherein
the CCP steers the people from one victory to the next into a bright and
prosperous future (see Zhang Yingjin 2004: 193). This politicisation of
the cinema coincided with an audio transformation, as the majority of
Chinese films began uniformly addressing audiences in the official state
language of Mandarin for the first time.7 Qua Benedict Anderson, the
use of a fixed and stable language within a prescribed national border
can be understood as a strategy to help foster and maintain an imagined
solidarity and national community. What is more, under CCP rule
almost all previous Chinese films specifically the Second Generations
Golden era movies were banned. In 1956 the Beijing Film Academy
(BFA) was founded, as part of an attempt to restrict the training of
filmmakers and limit their work to approved ideology (Nochimson
2010: 388).8 Third Generation directors were thereafter schooled to
produce nationalist communist agitprop fashioned after a Soviet model
of socialist realism.
Throughout the Great Leap Forward Bordwell and Thompson
trace how mainland filmmakers faced intermittent periods of tightening
control followed by relative relaxation, until the chaos of the Cultural
Revolution (196772) ground the industry to a veritable halt, with only
a few highly regulated films such as The Red Detachment of Women

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


(1970) and Breaking with Old Ideas (1975) being produced. Around
1978 the BFA reopened for business amidst the implementation of
Post-Mao reform programmes. As China began to reshape and adapt
to this New-Era, a new wave of Fourth Generation graduates began
producing a series of scar dramas that obliquely explored the traumatic
aftermath of these turbulent times. This New-Era is broadly outlined
in terms of gradual incremental reforms in Chinas agricultural and
service sectors, and as bearing witness to the emergence of an embryonic
mass consumer culture within key urban centres.9 By 1986 ongoing
systemic reforms witnessed Chinas film industry come under the control
of a new State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT),
which immediately began tightening up control measures. The Fifth
Generations rise to prominence during this era thus schizophrenically
coincided with Chinas ever-tightening domestic control on filmmaking
practice and a period of international opening up heralded as the
march into the world (Zhen 2007: 3).
Facing stricter domestic control, many young directors began
embracing overseas investment to produce personal projects, or utilising
foreign locations for the editing and post-production of festival films that
would be deemed politically unsanitary. Accordingly many produced
films that tackled controversial subject matter or employed avantgarde aesthetics. Directors like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige famously
began entering their films into international festivals without submitting
them to SARFT for permission to release. Their politically charged
films helped the Fifth Generation gain international prizes and prestige,
but domestic bans on films like Chens Farewell my Concubine
(1994) and the temporary blacklisting of filmmakers helped tame the
Fifth Generations subversive side (see Zhu 2003: 143). The government
also began closing the bureaucratic loopholes which allowed films to
escape the scrutiny of censorship bodies, and in 1996 a law was passed
making it illegal to produce any film outside the state-owned studio
system (Berry 2007: 129).
As the Fifth Generation predominantly worked within the state studio
system, Zhang Zhen and Xiaping Lin argue their subsequent waves
of lavish historical melodramas and cultural allegories (Zhang Zhen
2007: 23) became main melody films (Lin 2009: 93), that helped reestablish a predominantly fictional national cinema within China. For
many it was to be the nonstate or so-called Sixth Generation, working
in an independent or underground context, which would finally
challenge Chinas monolithic national cinema models. Filmmakers like
Wang and Zhang began making no- or low-budget films (latterly with

518 David H. Fleming

foreign or private investment), originally distributing them domestically
through nonofficial video, VCD or DVD networks. These began focusing
upon a new alienated or marginalised generation and character that was
increasingly lost or confused within a rapidly and radically transforming
country.10 On account of this, many like Zhang Zhen claim a new minor
cinema11 surfaced, featuring characters which Sheldon Lu in turn argues
began displaying a paradigmatic unmooring of identities, that shifted
away from the nation or village the traditional sources of cinematic
identity (Lu 2007: 138).
This Sixth Generation is often discussed in terms of being the first to
openly receive transnational investment to make low-budget films that
do not get official domestic releases. These filmmakers are also often
discussed in terms of being exposed (in differing degrees) to key foreign
directors and critics whilst at film school. Bazin often appears as a source
of inspiration too, being singled out in discussions and interviews as a
key influence. Martha P. Nochimson and Matthew David Johnson note
that besides Bazin, the Sixth Generation were also exposed to/influenced
by Robert Flaherty and Frederick Wisemans documentaries (see
Nochimson 2010: 390; Johnson 2006: 65), whilst Tonglin Lu, Tian
Zhuandzhuang and Zhang Yingjin specifically point to the appearance
of Italian neorealist films in the BFA diet as another major influence
(Zhang Yingjin 2006; Jaffee 2006; Tonglin Lu 2006). Accordingly,
critics often tease out the new impulses Bazinian aesthetic preference
for long takes and a hyperrealist aesthetic that helps foreground the
rawness and emotional charge of social experience (Zhang Zhen 2007:
7). Other temper such discussions by claiming they also drew upon
the Chinese legacy of critical realism (Zhang Zhen 2007: 7), however,
or the work of the new Chinese documentary filmmakers who ran
a parallel and at times intersecting path (see Zhang Zhen 2007: 17;
Berry 2007).
Zhu argues that because the Sixth Generation had such a diverse
range of foreign and domestic influences, they were the first generation
of Chinese filmmaker to produce films that were more cinematic
than dramatic (Zhu 2003: 166). But on account of excluding or
overlooking the work of talented Fifth Generation directors like Ning
Ying, who also displays a comparable style, the Sixth Generation label
has increasingly proved problematic. In the first instance, if this new
impulse truly demonstrates a break with the older national traditions,
it is questionable whether or not we should maintain a chronological
ordering that implies the same national teleology or continuity. Many
simply opt to describe the new impulse as part of an amateur movement

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


(Jaffee 2006: 81; Zhen 2007: 17), or in terms of displaying anti-art

or degree zero aesthetics (Johnson 2006: 68) different to the official
films. Others stick to the renewed desire for higher degrees of realism
as the most defining feature, reflecting upon a preference for a onthe-spot-realism (Berry 2007: 123), negative poetics (Lai 2007: 205),
stream of life style (Chaudhuri 2005: 98), or urban realism (Reynaud
2007: 265). The realism proved problematic for many Chinese critics
and directors too, though, so some opt to outline the new approach in
terms of a distinctive attitude that cuts across different genres, styles
and generations (see Braester 2007: 161).12 Lai and Zhu similarly opt
to describe a style marked out by a pervasive pessimism (Zhu 2003:
166) or new urban attitude (Lai 2007: 206). Chris Berry offers an
approach that helps re-establish connections with Deleuze, by arguing
that the new documentary and fiction filmmakers came to operate under
a new imperative to get real. Which is to say, at once an aesthetic
drive to represent the social in a new (Bazinian) realist way, whilst
simultaneously inferring another shade of meaning invoking the Western
slang phrase to wise up and stop dreaming (Berry 2007: 114). This
latter meaning again becomes suggestive of a Deleuzian movement of
mind that is introduced into the thinking-image.
Historically, no consideration of this era and its new cinema can
be complete in Western academic discourses at least without also
addressing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Dror Kochan points
out that it is near customary in Western discourses to link the new
forms and characters to the aftermath of the brutal repression of
democratic protesters. However, he also argues we must counterbalance
this Western political obsession by paying attention to the wider Chinese
context, and specific changes affecting a wider society as it came to
terms with a profound crisis in its traditional value systems and the
loss of its cultural heritage (Kochan 2003). Indeed, this Post-New-Era
bore witness to an intensification of systemic transformations, which
(contingently) heralded in a radical paradigmatic shift in Chinas future
The famous Deng Xiaoping slogan To make money is glorious!
helps crystallise Chinas wider socio-political systemic reforms, which
inexorably led toward the incursion of global capitalism and the
emergence of a ruthlessly advancing market economy (Zhen 2007:
25). This marched in lock step with the largest human population shift
the world has ever witnessed. And it arguably becomes in relation to
these wider shifts, and the confusing experiences of suddenly confronting
a new psycho-geography and overwhelming urban reality that many

520 David H. Fleming

of the (si)neo-realist films take as their subject. The title of Lin
Xiaopings book on Chinese Art and Film from this period, Children
of Marx and Coca-Cola (2009), perfectly draws out the nature of
the confusing material and ideological in-between space confronting
this new generation of Chinese character, and hints towards the new
disjunctive form of perception and action they must encounter and
learn to understand. On account of these wider socio-geo-political
transformations, many feel the new Chinese cinema is best approached
through a critical lens of postsocialism (see for example Pickowicz 2006;
McGrath 2007; Nochimson 2010).
Zhang Yingjin argues postsocialism should be understood as a
specifically Chinese equivalent to Jean-Franois Lyotards concept of
postmodernism, and can be expanded to account for a diverse postMaoist artistic-cultural landscape that includes a broad range of
filmmakers hailing from different generations, aesthetic aspirations,
and ideological persuasions [that] struggle to readjust or redefine their
different strategic positions in different social, political, and economic
situations (Zhang Yingjin 2007: 502). Berry argues that postsocialism,
like postmodernism, must be understood in terms of the stubborn
persistence of grand myths (or narratives) long after any real faith
in them has been lost (Berry 2007: 116). To bring back Deleuze
momentarily, we could begin aligning this with his arguments regarding
the modern cinemas playful awareness of the old clichs.
Before proceeding, we must take pause to highlight one significant
industrial difference emerging between the Chinese and Italian filmhistories. For in the Chinese context we cannot ignore the omnipresence
of a parallel national (or nation-building) and commercial cinema that
remains running alongside this alternative trend: as the production
of epic clichs like Founding of the Republic (2009) attest. Against
these ongoing official (action-image models) histories and archaeologies
of the present, then, the (si)neo-realist films should be understood as
recording and documenting an alternative history of the present or
now. That is, in difference and opposition to the complete demolition
job that defines the before and after of the Italian neorealist impulse,
the (si)neo-realist cinema is best understood in terms of a breakdown
or partial architectural collapse, as if the ceiling and walls have
crumbled in while the roof and faade remain standing.13 This image
of collapsing architecture serves to bring us neatly back to Deleuzes
reading of the Italian neorealist movement, particularly regarding his
discussions of the new mental relations introduced into the image

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


which emerged amidst the broken architecture and post-war rubble.

But before returning to these, we should first examine how Deleuzes
film-philosophy approaches differ from those offered by Bazin.

III. Neorealism and (Si)neo-realism: Bazin and Ontology

Film critics problematise any fixed definition of neorealism as a cohesive
movement, by highlighting how there are so few pure neorealist
films (see Wagstaff 1989; Dyer 2006). David Bordwell and Kristin
Thompson further remind us that neorealism had no manifesto: rather,
it was only contingently conceptualised as a moralistic movement that
focused on contemporary issues, and strove for greater levels of social
realism.14 In a manner reminiscent of the discourses surrounding the
(si)neo-realist impulse outlined above, many settled for a definition that
was more akin to a mode, attitude, or heterogeneous blend of realist
and generic elements found within the work of various filmmakers
hailing from different zones and generations. Richard Dyer thus offers
and incorporates Vittorio Spinazzolas illuminating distinction wherein
neorealism appears to be an art cinema about the people as opposed
to a popular cinema for them (see Wagstaff 1989: 72; Dyer 2006:
28). This distinction likewise becomes relevant to our understanding of
the (si)neo-realist impulse, specifically with regards to how filmmakers
began coveting domestic bans as a strategy designed to increase political
capital and appeal to foreign curators, critics and what Zhang describes
as a respectable (foreign art festival) audience (Zhang Yingjin 2006:
33), which is to say, the same form of European art cinema crowd that
the neorealist directors sought half a century before. Thus, domestic
bans, samizdat distribution networks and the films clear ethico-aesthetic
fit within foreign festival circuits illuminate how the Chinese films also
cannot be considered a popular cinema for the people the narratives are
Arguably Bazins writing upon neorealism still displayed the most
enduring impact and influence within Anglophone Film Studies. For
Bazin was most attracted to neorealisms ideologically pure form and
content, and impressed by how directors like De Sica coupled their
crusade for realism with a moral desire to draw out and expose the secret
beauty of the everyday. Bazin wrote passionately about the qualitative
beauty of the fathers and sons gaits in The Bicycle Thieves, for example,
which the andante narrative form allowed to surface and unfold (Bazin
1999). Bazin also lauded the movements aesthetic use of long takes and

522 David H. Fleming

deep focus, which unlike dialectical montage, played to the strengths of
films indexical photographic ontology, which is to say, cinemas ability
to take a decal imprint from reality without the intervention of man
or any ideological false consciousness. As already indicated, the (si)neorealist directors often surface as autodidacts of the Bazinian-neorealists
impulses and political drives. Zhang Yingjin notes how Jia Zhangke is
often credited within China for introducing a groundbreaking use of
the fixed-frame long take that minimizes the directors influence on the
cast and environments, and exemplifies the new zero degree style that
marks the break away from Chinas literary cinematic heritage (Zhang
Yingjin 2006: 29).
Beyond their embrace of a new technological zero degree, though,
Bazin also applauded the Italian directors for employing non-actors and
types to flesh out their roles as this also called upon the actual charactertypes to be rather than to act (in a false theatrical manner). Problems
with this notion aside, we can again locate strong ties between the
neorealist and (si)neo-realist trends surfacing here via a shared attempt
to differentiate the social and moral texture of their films from the
surrounding web of national and commercial products, which typically
employed known actors (professionals) and stars (commodities). Wang
and Zhang began this trend by casting their friends, who were Beijing
artists and singers, as self-proclaimed social outsiders identical or
comparable with themselves within The Days and Beijing Bastards.16
Wang adhered to this realist impulse as the new millennium unfolded,
casting first-time actors Cui Lin and Li Bin within his most commercial
overground film, Beijing Bicycle. Interestingly, for this film Wang also
employed two professional actresses, Zhou Xun and Gao Yuanyuan, to
play the respective love interests. This mixing of non- and professional
casting also finds parallels with neorealism, of course, but is here part of
a deliberate strategy worked into the narrative tapestry, with both female
characters surfacing as somewhat unobtainable movie star-like figures
for the male protagonists. Both are clearly signalled as commodities or
objects to-be-looked-at and desired, often appearing framed behind
large windows or frame-within-a-frame devices that highlight their
quasi-cinematic status (appended to their upper-middle-class lives).17
If the use of non-professional actors and types becomes another overt
Bazinian trope linking together a whole raft of (si)neo-realist films,
though, we must turn to the fictional dimensions of the characters
to see if these too also reflect what Deleuze valued in the neorealist
movement. To do this we must first return to Deleuzes writing upon

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


IV. Neorealism and (Si)neo-realism: From Bazin to Deleuze, or

Ontology to Noology
Deleuzes engagement with neorealism suffered a satellite delay before
impacting Anglophone Film Studies: partially on account of the first
English translations of the Cinema books not appearing until 1986 and
1989, and appearing during an era when many had grown weary of
Theory.18 Deleuze was aware of Bazins writing, reflecting upon how
for him, the value of neorealism lay in a consideration of form and
content: with real life stories being conveyed by what Bazin called
fact-images. Deleuze also describes how for others, neorealism was best
defined by the unpredictable encounter, or its preference for fragmentary
narrative structures that appeared ephemeral, lacunal and piecemeal.
What is more, filmmakers moved away from focusing upon exceptional
individuals that could marshal narrative resources, and instead began
approaching the ideals of screenwriters like Cesare Zavattini, who
expressed a desire to document the slow weary step of the unexceptional
worker returning home . . . in all its raw and aristocratic beauty.19
Deleuze doubted the most radical or valuable feature of the Italian
movement lay in its drive towards ever-higher degrees of social or
ontological realism though. Instead, he argued the true value lay in
a consideration of the new mental relations introduced into the image
in films like Pias (1946), Germany Year Zero (1948) and Umberto D
(1952). For Deleuze, these films worked to stimulate different ways
of perceiving (in the brain) and provoked viewers to think the new
(Deleuze 2005b: 1). Thus, if Bazin was primarily concerned with
cinemas ontological ability to reflect an already existing (social) reality,
Deleuze demanded cinema do something else, which is, to bring forth
a new vision of the world, or use new forms of visionary characters
to renew our belief in the world. The unique value of Deleuzes
approaches, then, lie in the manner in which they allow us to reevaluate films from an alternative philosophical perspective, and to
transcend discourses of socio-political realism and false consciousness
to instead mount a positive creative critique of the present that sets out
to immanently think the new. Or again, to understand (si)neo-realist
films, like neorealist films before them, as being primarily concerned with
restructuring perception and revitalising thought (see for example Kelso
2004; kervall 2008).
It becomes useful here to return specifically to Deleuzes writing on
time-image cinema, which he understood as marking a crisis in the
classical action-image, and wherein he identifies images beginning to

524 David H. Fleming

surface where time appears loosened from its subjugation to movement,
knocked out of joint, or no longer slave to action. Although Deleuze
actually described the time-image being invented by the Japanese
director Yasujiro Ozu to whom we will return in specific relation
to Wangs work below he demonstrates how it did not appear as
part of a wider film tradition until it surfaced in the Italian films. At
the end of Cinema 1 (2005a) Deleuze accordingly asks why the timeimage appeared in Italy first. Qua Martin-Jones, his answer becomes
illuminating for its wider application to other world-cinemas, for he
argues it ostensibly emerged because of an essential reason, or again,
one external to cinema itself and linked to contextual factors; at once
historical, technological, social, political, material (and aesthetic). For
one, Deleuze argues that Italy could not claim the same rank or uphold
any illusion of being a victor after the war like the French. He also
observed how the Italian cinema was very different to that of the
defeated Germany. Deleuze remarks:
In contrast to Germany, on the one hand [the Italian cinema] had at its
disposal a cinematographic institution which had escaped fascism relatively
successfully, on the other hand it could point to a resistance and a popular life
underlying oppression, although one without illusion. To grasp these, all that
was needed was a new type of tale capable of including the elliptical and the
unorganized, as if the cinema had to begin again from zero. (Deleuze 2005a:
21516; my emphasis)

This stressed point highlights another significant parallel with (si)neorealist films, which also appear to grasp for and privilege a new
non-official perspective on Chinas changing and transforming reality,
without upholding any illusion.20 Wangs characters appear particularly
emblematic of the wider trend in this regard, formulating disempowered
outsiders, underclass migrant workers, deported illegal refugees, river
workers and bewildered adult-children. Much like the Italian cohort of
characters, these men are often left unable to act or react to a range
of overwhelming situations surrounding them, and in this sense find yet
more parallels with Deleuzes understanding of the mental disruption
underpinning the neorealist films.
Deleuze ultimately identified five distinct tropes or characteristics
that distinguished neorealism as a break-away cinema. As already
discussed, he understood the modern cinema to be partially defined by
its (postmodern) awareness of clichs. But neorealism was also discussed
in terms of its embrace of dispersive situations; the emergence of
deliberately weak links; harnessing andante ballade or stroll structures;

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


and the denunciation of conspiracy (for more on this see Kelso 2004: 4).
Deleuze linked all of these to an essential or contextual situation
appearing around and within the films. For after the war, Italy, like
most of Europe, found itself materially and ideologically shattered. As
the majority of early neorealist stories took place within derelict and
rubbled cities, Deleuze strongly identified these spaces as key factors
linked to the emergence of the new characteristics, and the newer forms
of perception and thought. Indeed, Deleuze thought neorealist films were
collectively marked by an increase in the number of situations characters
no longer knew how to act or react to, in spaces we no longer knew
how to describe (Deleuze 2005b: xi). These were any-space-whatevers
(espaces quelconques), deserted but inhabited waste grounds, disused
warehouses and rubbled lots within cities undergoing ongoing processes
of demolition and reconstruction. Between the two Cinema books, these
spaces are described not only as providing the neorealist films with a
loaded and load bearing mise-en-scne, but as also serving to nurture a
new race of character, a stirring mutant rendered unsure of how to move,
act or react to what was around them. As we will see below, similar
factors can also be identified at work within and across the (si)neo-realist

V. On Breakdowns and Construction Site Futures

The politico-economic shifts undergirding China during the late
twentieth and early twenty-first centuries led to a radical transformation
and reorganisation of the nations social structuring and geo-political
topology. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the cities and urban
centres, which became marked by huge material and social engineering
programmes that bore witness to the ruthless demolition of old buildings
(and lifestyles) and the unmitigated construction of a new urban psychogeography and reality. As the ideological and material breakdown and
reconstruction of China occurred concomitantly, Zhang Zhen points to
how the historicity of the new (si)neo-realist impulse must be anchored
to the unprecedented large-scale urbanization and globalization of
China on the threshold of a new century: or in terms of dealing with
urbanisation as a process (Zhang Zhen 2007: 25). The disappearing
and transforming city/nation often becomes elevated to a character in
its own right, or appears as a form of living landscape across the
whole body of (si)neo-realist films. The non-studio locations and onthe-street shooting (often without permits or official permission) that
define much of the trends new political sharpness also often result in

526 David H. Fleming

Bazinian comparisons linked to a perceived moral impulse to capture
and document a rapidly changing social reality. Nings Beijing trilogy
makes for an interesting case in point here, by displaying a truly Bazinian
impulse to realistically mummify Beijings rapidly (and traumatically)
transforming time-spaces in a clear neorealist style. Ning, like Wang, is
another Chinese director that has strong personal links with the Italian
cinematic traditions (see for example Zhang Zhen 2004).21 In On the
Beat, Ning opens with a protracted scene tracking two policemen cycling
past expansive rubbled lots within their administrative district. They are
heard discussing 700 recently demolished houses as they pass expansive
demolition sights/sites, and are heard mourning the replacement of their
horizontal communities with newly planned vertical ones. As they turn
into a narrow hutong they are forced to dismount to allow a steamroller to move towards its next job. In For Fun she similarly focuses
upon traditional spaces ear-marked for demolition or decommission,
capturing an opera theatre, and traditional community spaces that,
like the old men who populate them, have no clear place in Chinas
new future. Accordingly, Nings films work in a manner that becomes
reminiscent of the ghostly and pregnant photographic images of Eugne
Atget. Accordingly, for Zhang Zhen, these films stubbornly reveal the
spots branded with social and historical traces, and document a past on
the cusp of disappearance (Zhang Zhen 2007: 21).
Jias Pickpocket and The World are also emblematic of these spatial
trends, embedding old buildings marked with demolition symbols,
rubbled lots and new construction sites as loaded spaces in which to set
his stories. Yomi Braester argues that, because such images appear in so
many (si)neo-realist films, and narratives often come to a turning point
when characters discover buildings being demolished or literally cross
the wreckage and debris, the movement should largely be understood
in terms of employing demolition as a symbol: at once expressing a
sudden need to chronicle the citys transformation, and as part of an
attempt to stop or slow down the process of forgetting (Braester 2007:
1625). Zhang Zhen similarly describes the (si)neo-realists as a new
breed of unofficial documenter or chronicler of the demolition of old
cities, lifestyles, and identities and the construction of new ones (Zhang
Zhen 2007: 9). It is thus the actual space and time documented by the
amateur actors and filmmakers that arguably becomes the main focus of
the whole movement. For Zhang Zhen, these glimpsed images become
incorporated into the films as part of a larger strategy to bear witness to
a radical rupture and transformation of history taking place before the
lens (Zhang Zhen 2007: 18).

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


Beyond Bazinian readings, the depictions of demolition as a process

contributes to a temporalisation of cinematic space that emerges
concomitantly alongside a materialisation of changing mental relations:
thus literally refolding the changing geo-political landscape with that of
the material urban milieu. For Shohini Chaudhuri, similar features of
the (si)neo-realist impulse thus begin to reveal a characteristic split
or schizophrenic subjectivity common to the era, which apathetically
registers the shocks of endless historic reversals demanded by the
architects of one new China after another (Chaudhuri 2006: 99).
Soviet-style socialism with Chinese characteristics; The Great leap
Forwards; the Cultural Revolution; Post-Mao reforms; Opening up;
the March into the world; the New-Era; the Post-New-Era; Dengs
Capitalism with Asian values . . . or Communism and Schizophrenia?
Braester points to, but refrains from developing, Deleuzes concept
of the any-space-whatever to help describe these loaded sino-cinematic
spaces, which somehow always appear universal and suspended outside
any power structure, yet reterritorialise ideological abstractions
(Braester 2010: 25). But beyond this signposting, we must ask; can
we unproblematically link these Chinese space-images to those found
informing Deleuzes time-image models in Cinema 2? To move beyond
how such filmic-spaces merely (ontologically) bear witness to the
destruction of the old, then, we must also engage with how they
introduce or provoke a thinking of the new. To understand this, we must
now consider the concomitant rebuilding or reconstruction linked to the
complexities of Chinas modernisation process. For it is with regards to
this that the (si)neo-realist films introduce new perceptual and mental
relations into the image to help confront the emergence of unfamiliar
places and spaces symptomatic of globalisation.
Taking this into account, we must concede that the Chinese anyspaces-whatever also display a unique pole altogether absent from the
earlier Italian films and Deleuzian discussions thereof. To address this,
I propose to imbricate Marc Augs (1995) concept of the supermodern
non-place, which is often discussed in terms of homogenous highways,
airport buildings, international hotels and shopping malls that signal
the spread of globalisation everywhere.22 For it is these that begin to
emerge out of the rubble of the old. We will momentarily return in
more detail to these forms of place in specific relation to Wangs Beijing
Bicycle, but in order to conceptually differentiate these forms of space
from the Deleuzian neorealist models, I propose to introduce another
new term any-now(here)-spaces which helps synthesise certain unique
dimensions peculiar to the (si)neo-realist films.

528 David H. Fleming

VI. Fragmenting Forms, Any-now(here)-spaces and

(Si)neo-realist Seers
At the turn of the new millennium, Sheldon Lu highlighted how the
addition of new streets and neighbourhoods had become a regular
phenomenon in China. In 2001 alone, the year Beijing Bicycle was
released, there were over 300 new place names added to the Beijing map
(Lu 2007: 139). This phenomenon is clearly reflected in Wangs film,
which contains a proliferation of images which document the destruction
of the old alongside the appearance of newer any-now(here)-spaces
emblematic of the new global Empire (qua Hardt and Negri 2000). The
transforming material space first surfaces as a pertinent theme in an early
sequence that introduces a band of provincial migrant workers recently
employed as Beijing couriers. The migrants are ordered by their boss to
examine a huge map of Beijing that fills the entire wall of the depot, as
he instructs them to learn every street name by heart, and memorise
all the different intersections and winding hutongs. The impossibility
of their task initially provides the film with a light-hearted comedic
moment, as the migrants eagerly scan the minute detail of the expansive
cartographic wall with their eyes and fingertips. Throughout the film
the idea of memorising Beijing is shown to be a doubly impossible task,
however, in that even if they could memorise the extensive map, the
material city beyond is always undergoing an intensive process of change
and transformation. This is most overtly highlighted by the different
spaces the film opts to set its loosely interconnected scenes: scraps of
wasteland, building sites, skyscrapers in the process of construction,
modern any-now(here)-spaces, or in older labyrinthine alleys already
ear-marked with demolition symbols.
Significantly, narrative form begins to reflect mise-en-scne in these
spaces, which is to say, in the broken rubble lots or construction spaces,
both action and the action-image form appear to break down and recompose. As if reflecting upon this at a performative level of action,
Wang frames a series of shots of the bicycle gangs executing tricks within
de/reterritorialising urban spaces (demolition/building sites). Here, the
manner in which the bikes and riders move is stylistically defamiliarised,
as instead of riding backwards and forwards in flowing movements, the
riders bounce, jump and hop in a series of disconnected motions and
staccato arabesque poses. In this manner, the de/reterritorialisation of
space is directly matched by a de/reterritorialisation of regular movement
and action, which plays out upon a variety of different levels including
that of the large form action-image. Linked to similar phenomena,

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


Deleuze saw neorealisms deterritorialisation of movement-image drives

lead to the introduction of purely optical and sound situations, and
consequently, a focus upon a series of fragmentary or chopped-up
encounters that helped destroy the dominant narrative structures of
Hollywood, Soviet and Italian cinemas.
Lai explicitly picks up on comparable aspects as a defining feature
of the (si)neo-realist stories, observing how their negative poetics
emerged alongside a new self-conscious choice of doubt and hesitancy
that defined their modes of narrative progression (Lai 2007: 227).
Zhu draws explicit parallels between neorealism and the Chinese
narratives by highlighting how both typically came to feature goalbereft protagonists embedded within loosely connected episodic stories
(Zhu 2003: 166). Chaudhuri too sees the protagonists being defined
by an overwhelming sense of directionlessness, which she explicitly
links to characters and forms (Chaudhuri 2005: 99). Berry adopts
an explicitly Deleuzian language to describe the emergence of new
fictional and documentary sequences that also began breaking away
from dominant movement-image regimes, and increasingly embedded a
distended temporal logic (Berry 2007: 124). It is also worth stressing
here that the encounters with these spaces often leave the characters
coated in the dust and dirt which sticks to their clothes, gets up their
noses or into their eyes. The experiences thus often emerge as embodied
and sensual ones too, which further tie into the depowering of the
protagonists ability to physically marshal the body through an actionimage narrative time-space. Zhang Zhen invokes these features of the
new impulse by linking the transforming context directly to the modes
new ethico-aesthetics. Here, the new cinema not only remains anchored
to the social here and now (qua Bazin), but also creates an alternative
cinematic space that is haptic rather than optic, sensuous and open
rather than abstract and closed in a manner suggestive of Deleuzes
time-image models (Zhang Zhen 2007: 21).
This haptic quality of the Deleuzian any-space-whatever is literally
tied to a complex temporal dimension of the (si)neo-realist city, then,
as China increasingly appears disconnected and removed from its own
history, politics and society, which increasingly appear in a process of
erasure: for [t]oday is centre stage; there is no yesterday (Pickowicz
2006: 1617). For Brnice Reynaud this leads to the emergence of a
distinctly temporal setting and surface that appears caught somewhere
between the past and the future (Reynaud 2007: 266), echoing in turn
Lins view of protagonists trapped in an intense present (Lin 2009:
93). More recently Philippa Lovatt has explored how the use of sounds

530 David H. Fleming

in Jia Zhangkes urban films invokes multiple, divergent temporalities,
linked to a disjunctive postsocialist feeling by using Derridean theories
and coordinates, amongst others, to help describe and account for
these confusing cinematic experiences (Lovatt 2012). Beyond Deleuze
and Derrida, though, many critics introduce comparable temporal
dimensions of the film movement via a wider set of philosophical
coordinates. For example, Braester (2010), Reynaud (2007) and Shuqin
Cui (2007) apply Ackbar Abbass concept of dj disparu or culture of
disappearance to better delimit and describe these complex images of
material and mental transformation. For them, the depictions of space
foster a form of reverse hallucination, which again finds significant
overlaps with Deleuzes visionary neorealist models (Kelso 2004). But
to better get at these issues, we must turn to the narrative forms that
prompt a thinking otherwise of the new, and the visionary characters
that must first become prey to the overwhelming present and confusing
any-now(here)-spaces within it.
Indeed, the narrative encounters taking place across these liminal
cinematic spaces offer up a litany of purely optical situations that again
help draw out a Deleuzian link between the two historical movements.
In both trends the in-between spaces often prevent characters from
moving and acting in traditional action-image oriented manners. For
such reasons, the narrative forms, character types and spaces all
contribute to a deviation from existing mainstream standards, with
part of the breakdown formulating a reaction against the demand
for psychologically motivated characters [. . . ] whose presence has an
overarching influence over the state of events (Lai 2007: 227). Wangs
films again make for an interesting case in point as they overwhelmingly
tend to focus upon bewildered characters moving within and through
any-(now)here-spaces, in films that can collectively be understood in
terms of unleashing what Martin-Jones calls hybrid-images: expressively
de- and reterritorialising the movement- and time-image categories in an
aesthetic attempt to reflect content and develop underlying themes linked
to reinvigorating perception and thinking differently.
Beijing Bicycle toys with a motific de- and reterritorialisation of
movement- and time-image categories, with cracks appearing in the
action-image that are not prised fully apart. Part of this is reflected by
using two dispersed and fragmented straight movement-image stories
that draw together and apart in a manner that formally reflects the
subterranean faults breaking apart and reconstructing the movement
and the embedded material and ideological spaces. In an asymmetrical
episodic section of the narrative following each of the boys stealing or
repossessing the bike from the other, it is possible to locate an interesting

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


Bazinian neorealist-esque shot that appears to playfully zigzag from a

movement- to time-image pole and back (or from one action-image
to another via a formal gap or fissure) in a manner conducive with
Deleuzian models. The long take begins in the disorienting hutong
labyrinth, with a mounted still camera framing a deep-focus shot of Jian
beginning to stash his bike behind a series of objects and dust covers
within a cluttered nook. During the protracted long shot a female extra
enters the background, and begins hanging washed clothes upon a line
strung across the alley. After Jian is satisfied his bike is well hidden he
exits towards the shots foreground. The camera thereafter lingers on
the unfolding scene, and by refusing to cut, invites viewers to observe
the woman and her washing. By degrees she completes her task and
evacuates the shot, which continues, reflecting an Ozu-esque signature:
the still life of a washing line. In this homage to the inventor of the timeimage we can locate a clichd deterritorialisation of the action-image
form, with the shot beginning to nod towards, or suggest, an underlying
time-image mode. However, after a protracted focus upon the evacuated
scene of washing, another action-image reterritorialises as Guei pokes
his head around the corner into the depths of frame. The unexpected
action suggests he was hiding in the background all along, within the
folds of the image, and his unexpected movement reactivates another
action-image drive and sequence within the larger narrative framework.
In Wangs Drifters the action-image is deterritorialised further,
aesthetically reflecting this films intensified temporal themes and motifs.
Wang strings together a series of long takes, focusing on Little Brother
(Duan Long) just waiting around in moments in-between action, often
doing very little or nothing. A relentless focus upon moments of stillness,
inaction or waiting around highlights a literal destabilisation of narrative
action, formally reflecting Little Brothers own disjunctive experience of
being a migrant who has escaped China to the US twice, only to be
deported back on both occasions. He surfaces as an inactive seer caught
between two disconnected space-times, and by properly belonging to
neither, becomes dislocated within a state of inaction and disjointed
time. This is arguably Wangs most overtly (si)neo-realist film, with the
concept of drifting between China and the US, a communist past and an
unknown future (Chinas joining the WTO being a prominent subtext
referenced via the television throughout) becoming expressively reflected
and made manifest in the films episodic ballade forms and refusals to
cut.23 For when the sensory-motor linkage has decomposed to such a
state, Deleuze argues that a visionary mode takes over, and time itself
surfaces as a theme.

532 David H. Fleming

Neorealist filmmakers such as De Sica and Luchino Visconti were
observed by Deleuze to focus upon a new breed of mutant, who moved
through cities in the course of demolition or reconstruction (Deleuze
2005b: xi). These were the Italian band of seer and wanderer who
no longer knew how to act: He shifts, runs and becomes animated
in vain, the situation he is in outstrips his motor capacities on all
sides, and makes him see and hear what is no longer subject to the
rules of a response or an action (Deleuze 2005b: 3). As discussed,
the materially broken and ruined Chinese streets perfectly reflect and
mirror the breaking apart of older ways of thinking, including those
linked to the traditional sources of identity (clichs), but we find a
toying with another clich upon the level of form that unfolds differently
in the new psycho-geography. For the lost migrant seer is not exactly
new to Chinese cinema, and can be understood as part of a complex
dialogue with the official overground cinema. Indeed, a focus upon
disabused country peasants has always been a prominent feature of
Chinese national cinema, even if there appears to be a significant
difference in the casting and characterisation in the newer trend qua
Bazin. Zhang Zhen touches upon this transformation by highlighting
how the earlier national films typically focused on the mythic, largerthan-life icons of the repressed peasant, whereas the new trend tends to
focus upon a motley crew of plebeian but nonetheless troubled people
on the margins of the age of transformation who no longer qualify as
suitable icons for a national cinema (Zhang Zhen 2007: 36). Instead
they formulate a band of aimless bohemians, petty thieves, KTV bar
hostesses, prostitutes, and postmen to neighbourhood police officers,
taxi drivers, alcoholics, homosexuals, the disabled, migrant workers,
and others (3). Or as Pickowicz acerbically renders the same change:
in the old Chinese cinema identity was unproblematic because everyone
was a patriot, a revolutionary, or one of Maos little red soldiers; in the
new cinema, however, everything has broken down and fragmented into
specialised individualised identities:
Im homeless. Im a prostitute. Im a club singer. Im a homosexual. Im
confused. Im a drug addict. Im a lesbian. Im a migrant. Im really confused.
Im a bohemian. Im a con artist. I have AIDS. Im a criminal. Im crazy. Im
confused beyond imagination. (Pickowicz 2006: 15)

We can concede, then, that if it remains the same sort of character

that becomes the migrant worker in this alternative (si)neo-realist
impulse, the filmmakers are aware of the old clichs, and appear to
have transplanted them into a hellish new any-now(here)-space that

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces


render them confused by demanding new forms of action or reaction

that they no longer understand. Linda Chiu-Han Lai accordingly
identifies the new characters as non-action takers, very different from the
previous breed of national cinema hero. They formulate aimless beings,
condemned to wander around, withdrawn from conscious engagement
with any productive, meaningful activities in the normative sense
(Lai 2007: 215). Surprisingly, Cui sees the new characters constitute
freewheeling urban dwellers that the filmmakers harness as a form of
wandering flneur to help dissect the new situation (Cui 2007: 243).
But one instinctively feels this position is too difficult to defend in
relation to the entire movement, and that Cui unconsciously conflates
the characters with the critics or art cinema audiences that (re)view
them. Lai counters such positions best by pointing to how the characters
are far from rational, self-driven or purposeful flneurs. Instead they do
very little, aimlessly wander around, digress into unplanned encounters,
or let whatever comes by take them on the spot (Lai 2007: 215). As
these characters display too little certainty about their place, or invest
so little effort into sorting out the mysteries that trouble them, Lai
instead appends a more passive and pessimistic modality outlined as
derive: linked to a decentred aimless drifting (20520).24
Whatever the case, Deleuzes model of the mutant seer and wanderer
appears productive for understanding the emergence of these character
types, and for understanding their visionary encounters with paralysing
situations that leave them unsure of how to act or react.25 Such features
arguably become most pronounced in the (si)neo-realist scenes that
chart the migrant-mutants confused passage into, or blockage from,
supermodern any-now(here)-spaces. Several scenes throughout Beijing
Bicycle, for example, depict the nave migrant Gueis encountering
unfamiliar spaces associated with Chinas embrace of globalisation and
modernisation. In one Guei delivers documents to a plush (non-place)
international hotel. We first find him having an overwhelming encounter
with a glass and brass revolving door that literally leaves him paralysed;
unsure of how to react, to or navigate through, the strange rotating
machine. When he braves the mechanism he is unceremoniously spat
into the foyer, where he is again left transfixed by the glittering mirrored
ceiling and shiny marble reception. He is left further confused by the
fact that the hotel staff are not expecting him, nor do they know who
his parcel is for. In another scene he is mistakenly guided into the hotels
massage parlour with a package, where it is believed someone bearing
the recipients name is. En route he is mistakenly identified as a customer,
by other (presumably) migrant staff, stripped naked, forced to shower,

534 David H. Fleming

and led into the massage area wearing a hotel robe. By degrees he is
sent to a man in the process of getting a rub from a blind masseuse.
Guei hesitantly approaches, again not knowing how to act or respond
to the bewildering optical and sound situation unfolding around him.
The blind masseuses are also of the same social status as Guei, but as
literal non-seers they appear as decisive actors who contrast his hesitant
and timid movements. Finally realising the man on the table is not the
recipient, Guei is led back to the foyer to be castigated by the real client
for being late. The receptionist also informs him he must pay for the
shower and massage. Unable to pay, he bolts, only to be accosted by
security and reported to his boss.
Observing similar themes of confusing everydayness littering other
(si)neo-realist narratives, Zhang Zhen introduces Harry Harootunians
notions of a fragmented and ceaseless new associated with
globalisation, which can also be neatly synthesised with our (si)neorealist concept of the any-now(here)-space, and help understand a whole
host of comparable seer scenes that expose the mutant migrants being
left unsure of how to react to an new alienating and unfamiliar now
or ever-changing present (Zhang Zhen 2007: 2). In this sense the
proliferation of new supermodern and globalised any-now(here)-spaces
outstrip the migrant characters on each side, at the same time as they
signal a new form of socio-political reality that needs to be re-perceived
and conceptualised. In this sense we begin to find the emergence of
a proto-crystal image within the Chinese cinema, which also becomes
literally reflected within the new any-now(here)-spaces and mise-enscne. For everywhere reflections and doublings begin to appear and
proliferate within and across these films. But these are typically bent,
twisted, skewed or distended within strange glass any-now(here)-space
architecture, and warped by neon lamps and refracting electric lights
emblematic of a parallel and distant new reality.

1. An abridged version this paper was delivered at the 2012 International Deleuze
Conference at Henan University in Kaifeng, PRC and appears as part of the
collected conference papers (see Fleming 2013).
2. Since the early 1990s a variety of new terms have been tried or applied to this
new impulse beyond Sixth-, Post-Sixth- or Newborn-Generation labels. Amongst
others, Chinese and foreign critics have discussed the films in terms of belonging
to a Post-wave (Zhu 2003: 143), Postsocialist (McGrath 2007; Zhang Zhen
2007), or post-sixth-generation (Pickowicz 2006) of filmmakers. Many settle
for the more popular and inclusive label of Urban Generation or Urban
Cinema, as a kind of catch-all for many of the aesthetic and stylistic features (see
Zhang Zhen 2007; Berry 2007; Braester 2012). As part of an attempt to expand

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces






the category even further, though, and move beyond previous discussions by
using Deleuze, I opt to drop the urban realism label too and create a new
concept of (si)neo-realism. In the first place, this allows me to account for and
include films like Wangs Drifters, which is clearly also part of the same impulse
and style but does not focus upon specifically urban characters or issues and to
allow for a wider range of directors and influences not typically considered part
of the Urban movement.
Amongst others, Paul Pickowicz, Ying Zhu, Jason McGrath and Shohini
Chaudhuri describe a complex and ever-changing relationship between Chinese
censorship bodies and the so-called illegal filmmakers. Pickowicz outlines this
in terms of a complicated and dangerous dance which Western critics typically
misunderstand. He offers a velvet prison model comparable to that encountered
by Czechoslovakian New Wave filmmakers in the late 1960s. Although many
of the films are often considered illegal or banned by foreign and domestic
audiences, in matter of fact, neither the films nor the filmmakers are actually
considered real political dissidents as such (see Chaudhuri 2005: pp. 989;
Pickowicz 2006; McGrath 2007). Rather, films that are not directly critical of
the ruling Party are tolerated as an acceptable or allowable form of political or
artistic venting. What is more, both authorities and filmmakers are aware that
in a global context of international film festivals, being perceived as an illegal
Chinese filmmaker, or having your film banned in Beijing can be seen as a
benefit, or tantamount to a good marketing: After all, a government ban would
guarantee international attention (Zhu 2003: 166) or else offer the filmmaker
the required pedigree to get attention abroad (Pickowicz 2006: 12). On account
of this, Yomi Braester and Zhu argue that in a global context these filmmakers
increasingly became self-packaged dissidents who came to exploit or exercise
a marketing strategy of wilful self-marginalisation to promote their products
globally (Zhu 2003: 166; Braester 2012: 357).
For an exhaustive list of films we can rhizomatically link to this movement see
Cheng 2006: 20944.
David H. Fleming, Deleuze and the (si)neorealist break?, Paper delivered at
Deleuze, Guattari and China, University of Nottingham Ningbo China, 23 May
2012; Fleming 2014.
I have coined my own neologistic term here as part of a wider strategy to at once
forge nomenclatural links to the Italian neorealist movement whilst at the same
time tying the concept to a specifically sino-cinematic break or context. Besides
employing this to erect links with a familiar historical movement and ethicoaesthetics, I also hope to introduce a new dimension of sin related to illicit
images of sex, drugs and deviant behaviour that was typically lacking from both
the earlier Italian movement and previous waves of national Chinese cinema.
This of course also relates to filmmakers trying to covet official opprobrium
and entice international curators and audiences.
There remained certain exceptions which prove the rule, with some musical
opera films from regional studios producing films in different traditional
dialects or provincial languages (for more on this see Zhu 2003: 168; Zhang
Zhen 2007: 20). It should also be noted that more genres appeared in Chinese
cinema under CCP rule than ever before, and after the Cultural Revolution
films about the Chinese ethnic minorities became popular. For a more detailed
account of the complex history of Socialist cinema in China see Zhang Yingjin
2004, 2012; Clark 2012.
Zhang Yingjin notes that before the BFA there was a Beijing Film School
which had been operating since 1951. Of interest to this paper, educationrelated projects saw the introduction of Italian neorealist films as early as

536 David H. Fleming







1954. Other foreign cinemas continued to filter in as part of specialised film

weeks and arguably influence these Chinese student-directors. In 1956 Japanese,
French, Soviet and Yugoslavian films were shown, and thereafter Indian and
Mexican films were known to be screened as part of film and culture exchanges
(see Zhang Yingjin 2004: 201). Michelangelo Antonioni was also invited into
China during the Cultural Revolution to make an epic documentary and
controlled Chinese self-portrait (see King 2010) Chung Kuo, Cina (1972).
Although several scathing public reviews appeared bemoaning the traitorous
and slanderous nature of the film, many Chinese filmmakers or viewers got to
see parts of the finished product (see for example Yang 1974).
Yomi Braester notes that this era already began to bear witness to a range
of urban films (not yet an Urban Cinema) set in Guangzhou where Dengs
economic reforms were targeted. He pinpoints how narratives such as Zhang
Liangs Yamaha Fish Stall (1984), Juvenile Delinquents (1985), Zhang Zemings
Sunshine and Rain (1987) and Sun Zhous With Sugar (1987) focus upon the
ways in which the youth began coming to grips with a budding consumerist
society, running unattached and often alienated lives, exploring sexual freedom
and dabbling in avant-garde art. These parables for modern existence (Braester
2012: 3478) can also be considered reflecting and anticipating the unfolding
cultural event that results in the (si)neo-realist break. David Bordwell and
Kristin Thompson note how Zhang Yuans earlier film Mama (1990) also
formulates part of a studio-sanctioned stylistic precursor to the later illegal
or underground movement (Bordwell and Thompson 2003: 651).
For more on the specificities and complexities of the transnational and domestic
funding or financing of these films see Pickowicz 2006 and Zhang Yingjin 2007.
The term minor cinema is here simultaneously understood in terms of being a
coming of age youth cinema and a minoritarian cinema in relation to but also
in dialogue with the officially sanctioned mainstream cinema (see Zhang Zhen
2007: 2).
Satisfactorily labelling the new impulse proves complicated. Chinese filmmakers
and scholars often displayed a desire to drop the use of terms like realism,
due in part to the concepts long association with state-sponsored socialist- and
revolutionary-realism (see Zhang Yingjin 2006). Foreign critics tend to favour
labels like nonstate or underground, as these help advertise the perceived
subversive political dimension of the films. Both sides often use the label
independent (or duli), but Pickowicz is drawn to correct this misnomer and
recalibrate the term to read in dependence: to better announce the strong
reliance upon transnational funding bodies and foreign political capital that
allows the films to be made and screened (Pickowicz 2006: vii). I again use this
as part of the desire to create a new concept.
It may also be helpful to consider another form of distinction wherein we can
outline the Italian neorealist movement in terms of breaking clean from the past
while the Chinese filmmakers are merely considered commenting or quoting this
earlier movement in a postmodern or postsocialist gesture that signals a different
form of postsocialist break (albeit whilst still remaining within the conventions
of world art cinema). I would like to thank the articles reviewer for highlighting
this interesting dimension.
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson highlight how discourses of realism
were initially appended on account of the stylistic contrast with previous
waves of Italian and Hollywood cinema (see Bordwell and Thompson 2003:
We are still forced to wonder to what extent the newly emerging ethico-aesthetics
and drive towards greater degrees of ontological realism relate to the Chinese
filmmakers anticipating what would appeal to foreign art cinema audiences.

The (Si)neo-realist break and emerging any-now(here)-spaces









Many (cynically) argue that on account of a cultural deterritorialisation and

capitalistic reterritorialisation, the films began to display a certain degree of
formulisation, conventionalisation and quotidianisation (see for example Zhang
Zhen 2007: 16; Kraicer 2009; Zhang Yingjin 2012: 66).
Demonstrating that these are not isolated cases, we can also find Ning Ying using
actual Beijing policemen, migrants and taxi drivers to perform as fictionalised
versions of themselves throughout her Beijing Trilogy, and Jia employing nonprofessional actors to appear in his low-budget underground film Pickpocket
and his higher-budget state-sponsored The World.
Judging females by their appearance is a complex and textured factor
expressively toyed with throughout the film. Guei and his uncle voyeuristically
leer/peer at what they think is a rich female housewife living in a posh apartment
behind the hutongs. They watch undetected through a peephole, enjoying her
pose in expensive gowns before a mirror whilst speculating as to why the rich
never appear happy. This woman finally turns out to be a maid, however, yet
another migrant worker like them, albeit one who takes an opportunity to dress
up in her employers clothes and make-up when she is not home.
David Bordwell and Noel Carrolls Post-Theory (1996) debates proclaimed the
death of grand narratives such as Psychoanalysis or Linguistics as suitable tools
for approaching or reading film. D. N. Rodowicks An Elegy for Theory (2007),
however, can be employed to bookend this period, marking a renaissance of filmphilosophy that was in part linked to the Anglophone translations of Deleuzes
Cinema 1 (1986) and Cinema 2 (1989).
From Ancora di Verga e del cinema Italiana (published in the November
1941 edition of Cinema), Mario Alicata and Giuseppe De Santis reflect the
views of the famous neorealist screenwriter Cesare Zavattini by arguing that
the neorealist movement desired to take their cameras into the Italian streets,
ports and factories and became convinced that one day we will make our most
beautiful film following the slow, tired step of the worker returning to his home,
narrating the essential poetry of a new and pure life that contains within itself the
secret of its aristocratic beauty (republished in translation by Ennio Di Nolfo
2002: 85).
Of course this can also be related to the Chinese context and the very real fear
of imprisonment facing artists being directly critical of the Party or suggesting
alternatives to the current hegemony and status quo.
Ning gives Wang a run for his money as a Chinese director with strong ties to
Italian cinematic traditions. She encountered classic neorealist films alongside
Bazins writing whilst at the BFA, for example, and studied at the Centro
Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Italy where she likewise acted as Bernardo
Bertoluccis assistant director (see Zhang Zhen 2004).
Ronald Bogue 2003, amongst others, mistakenly suggested Marc Augs notion
of the non-space inspired Deleuzes original any-space-whatever. William Brown
resolved this misunderstanding by demonstrating that Deleuze was really
influenced by his own student Pascal Auger.
Besides these features, Wangs films can also be understood as reflecting the
breaking down of the traditional modes of thinking and acting via the use of
audio and sound situations. Like neorealism before them, many of these films
began to appear audibly and ontologically distinct from the studio films by
employing naturalistic on-location noises and sounds. As part of the break with
these state traditions, and forging yet more links with neorealism, the (si)neorealist filmmakers began employing actors, dialects and accents that sounded
distinctly different. We could link these drives back to a Deleuzo-Guattarian
minor cinema model, of course, by claiming this new audio impulse in part
made the dominant cinematic language stutter, stumble and break down into

538 David H. Fleming

a series of non-official dialects, accents and slangs. This wider trope is also
evidenced in the opening of Beijing Bicycle, where a group of non-actor migrants
are interviewed in a montage of dislocated close-ups. The obvious accents and
regional inflections often lead to confusion, or create comical misunderstandings
between the migrants and their off-screen interlocutor speaking in Mandarin.
24. Pickowicz goes some way towards indicating how this trope can be traced to
some of the restraints placed upon the filmmakers themselves; or at least their
unwillingness to risk jail for directly criticising the state via characters, dialogue
or plot. This can in part account for why it rarely occurs to these characters to
connect their problems to trends unfolding in the larger society, and explains
why they remain utterly uniformed and have few or no political or social ideas
(Pickowicz 2006: 15).
25. Admittedly, we could also understand this transformation in terms of Deleuzes
modern political cinema again, wherein the people are understood to be
missing. The use of migrant characters (often with a political non-status)
reflects the absent people of the modern political cinema. Like the powerless
cart driver of Ousmane Sembnes Borom Sarret (1969), for example, the
disempowered characters are often discovered lurking in the margins, wandering
aimlessly amongst and between highly divided and codified milieus, reacting and
adapting to chance encounters or opportunities, and struggling against new and
bewildering power structures.

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A. N. Whitehead1

Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

Freelance philosopher and

experimental theatre practitioner

Isabelle Stengers (2011) Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild

Creation of Concepts, trans. Michael Chase, Cambridge and London:
Harvard University Press
Didier Debaise (2006) Un Empirisme spculatif: Lecture de Procs et
ralit de Whitehead, Paris: Vrin
A. N. Whitehead (2011) An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of
Natural Knowledge, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
[paperback re-issue of 1955 reprint of 1925 2nd edn]
A. N. Whitehead (2011) The Principle of Relativity with Applications
to Physical Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [paperback
re-issue of 1922 edn]
Two books on Whitehead, a major study by the noted philosopher
of science, Isabelle Stengers, and a shorter one by Didier Debaise are
reviewed, along with two earlier mathematical and scientific works by
Whitehead himself, which have been re-issued. This provides the basis
for a wide-ranging discussion of the relationships between Whiteheads
love of poetry and Heideggers approach to it, Whiteheads background
in mathematics and theoretical physics and his attitude to empirical
science and more general problems of the philosophy of the event, in
particular how radical change can come about.
Keywords: Whitehead, Heidegger, poetry, philosophy of the event,
philosophy of science, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
Deleuze Studies 8.4 (2014): 542568
DOI: 10.3366/dls.2014.0169
Edinburgh University Press

A. N. Whitehead 543
A. N. Whitehead (18611947) has a rather peculiar place in the
history of modern Western philosophy. His books on mathematics
and theoretical physics are still read by specialists in those fields,
but his philosophical work has never really become part of the
mainstream curriculum of the subject in Anglo-Saxon countries. Indeed
analytic philosophers have sometimes regarded him as slightly loopy
and not entirely to be taken seriously.2 It is mostly theologians and
educationalists who have been attracted by his metaphysical ideas and
have sometimes responded to him as a kind of cult figure. The situation is
definitely better with regard to Francophone philosophy, where there has
been a small but steady current of interest in his thought, starting with
the seminal work by Jean Wahl, Vers Le Concret, where the treatment
of Whitehead is remarkable, given the fact that it was published as
early as 1932, that is only three years after the publication of Process
and Reality.3 The problem with Francophone philosophers is that they
have had a tendency, at least until fairly recently, to subtly elide
Whiteheads ideas with those of Bergson and Husserl. Of course, there
are real affinities between the work of the three philosophers, all of
whom started as mathematicians, and Whitehead does refer positively
to Bergson, but there are also real differences. This is important, not
only for the history of ideas, but also for precision of thought in any
creative philosophy that draws on the work of any or all of these three
Bergson, Husserl and Whitehead all started off as mathematicians, but
the first two moved on to philosophy very quickly, whereas Whitehead
was still producing works on mathematics and theoretical physics in
his fifties. This is the key to understanding the difference between
Whitehead and the other two thinkers. Both Bergson and Husserl tried
to establish an autonomous, well-grounded mode of thought which was
an alternative to positivist science. In Bergson, this mode of thought is
intuition, and the contrast between it and science is unequivocal, but
Husserls mode of thought is ambiguous: he was trying to establish
a type of science that did not depend upon objective fact external to
consciousness. In later phenomenology, this became a primordial prescientific mode of thought, upon which scientific or logical modes of
thought were necessarily based, but there were also tinges of anti-science.
One can see why Bergsons ideas had such an enormous impact on the
arts, while those of Husserl were immensely important for the social
and human sciences.4 By contrast, Whitehead continued to think like a
mathematician throughout his career, and he never lost faith in science,
which he greatly stretched from the empirical towards the speculative by

544 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

means of his mathematics. In a sense, he is not far from a philosopher of
science such as Meyerson or Duhem or a philosophical mathematician
such as Poincar, even if there are clear divergences between their ideas
and his. Whiteheads ideas can also be related to more theoretical and/or
holistic currents in twentieth-century science, such as quantum physics,
evolutionary development biology (Evo Devo) or ethology.5
However, there is another dimension to Whitehead which takes him
beyond a subtle philosophy of science or a more holistic scientific
practice. In 1932, another seminal work was published, this time in
England: New Bearings in English Poetry by F. R. Leavis. In it, the
author traced the marginalisation and decline of English poetry in the
face of the modern industrial world in the late nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, and he saw Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley
Hopkins as the initiators of poetic renewal.6 Near the beginning of
the second chapter of The Concept of Nature, Whitehead states that
natural philosophers should consider everything perceived as being in
nature, the glow of the sunset just as much as the molecules and
electric waves used to explain the phenomenon.7 A sense of poetic
and scientific observations being equally valid as empirically based
knowledge is bound up with the rejection of the bifurcation of nature,
and Whitehead does indeed cite verses by Shakespeare or the English
Romantic poets in support of his philosophical arguments.8 Of course,
he is going back to writers from before the decline noted in New
Bearings in English Poetry, but Leavis judgement, which could also be
applied to other art forms in England, would not be relevant to poetry
or other art forms of the same time in French- or German-speaking
countries. Here, an autonomous, self-referential, aestheticising, protomodernist culture exploring inner consciousness grew up, particularly
in France after the dbcle of 18701 and in the Austro-Hungarian
empire, where psychoanalysis originated, but there were clear tendencies
in this direction, not simply in Austria and France, much earlier in the
nineteenth century. This is the kind of shift in subjectivity that prepared
the way for Bergson and Husserl and to which they greatly contributed.9
Except perhaps for Keats, the major English Romantic poets managed
to more or less bypass the problematic subject bequeathed to Western
culture by Descartes. Even if Coleridge became a drug addict and lost
his poetic gift and Wordsworth a pompous bore, their achievement in
the Lyrical Ballads its first edition was in 1798 was astonishing, even
if one tends to forget this because of the familiarity of the poems. There
is a limpid ease with which the subject encounters nature, other humans,
both strangers and intimate family members, and its own thoughtful

A. N. Whitehead 545
self-reflection. The latter is deep and not infrequently troubled this
unproblematic subject is not a shallow one but this trouble is never
all-engulfing and can always be assuaged in a way that is spritually
profound but not invested with excessive angst. Perception is direct,
observation acute, nature is felt on a delicate scale, and language is
transparent and simple. Of course, all this artlessness comes from very
complex art, as is made explicit in the fairly short Advertisement to the
original edition of the Lyrical Ballads, which became a greatly expanded
Preface in the later editions. Tintern Abbey demonstrates very clearly
the combination of a gentle but complex emotional chiaroscuro with a
smooth movement across the boundaries of the body and mind within
the subject, subject and nature, past, present and future of the subject
and subject and other related subject, in this case Wordsworths sister.
The lines: And I have felt/ A presence that disturbs me with the joy/
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime/ Of something far more deeply
interfused,/ Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns/ And the round
ocean and the living air,/ And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,/
A motion and a spirit, that impels/ All thinking things, all objects of all
thought,/ And rolls through all things shows the scumbled blurring of
what could have been broken down into its discrete parts by a more
rigourous, problematising analysis. This kind of intuitional, holistic
empiricism will be very important for Whitehead.10
Yet there is a complexity in what Tintern Abbey omits: one would
never know from the poem that the Wye valley had been an important
metallurgical centre since the sixteenth century and played an important
role in the early Industrial Revolution. There is a real element of
denial here, which will lead to Leavis diagnosis of the marginalisation
and decline of poetry in the course of the nineteenth century. There
is an interesting contrast with a slightly later, major French writer,
Nerval. Four works from the end of his life, that is from the early
1850s, involve quasi-autobiographical journeys to the north of Paris,
where the author had partly grown up: Anglique, Les Nuits doctobre,
Sylvie and Promenades et souvenirs. They epitomise a problematic,
disjunctive, fragmented subject, at times ironic, at times overwhelmed
by intense emotions, at times on the edge of hallucination. All four
works, especially Sylvie, contain impressive descriptions of nature and
local customs Nerval is much more self-projective or immersed in
these descriptions than Wordsworth but there are also references to
the railways that had only recently been built to the north of Paris in
three of the works and to social changes that resulted from the railways
in Sylvie.11

546 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

Nerval was strongly influenced by German literature, which, along
with mental illness, brings him very close to two of Heideggers
poets: Hlderlin and Trakl. There are also interesting affinities between
Heidegger and Whitehead, in that there is a similarly concrete quality
to the relationship between the human subject and the world of objects
in the former and the actual entity among other actual entities in the
latter. Heidegger clearly focuses on poetry in a much more sustained
way than Whitehead, but neither isolates it as aesthetic. Whitehead
moves easily from the glow of the sunset to molecules and electric
waves, from poetry to science, while Heidegger is well known for not
reading poems as a literary critic or historian. Indeed his readings
often feel like medieval biblical exegesis, with quasi-decontextualised
utterances being turned into insights into the essence of being in his
case or Christian spirituality in the case of the commentators from
the Middle Ages. With Heidegger, this is part of a deliberate process
of de-subjectivising and de-aestheticising artistic modernism in order
to regain a primordial, authentic access to the essence of being, but
there is a correlate: technology is rejected along with artistic modernism.
Whitehead has no problems with technology, and he does not need to
confront artistic modernism in English Romantic poetry. In a sense,
Heidegger had to reject the technology to which modernism was reacting
when he rejected modernism, while Whitehead was able to establish
an undifferentiated creativity as ultimate in Process and Reality.12 It
also means that the latters anti-Cartesianism is very nuanced: he does
not so much launch a frontal attack on the problematic subject as
conduct subtle operations that transform it, and he greatly enriches
the notion of modern science that had Cartesian thought as its basis
without completely destroying those foundations. This is why he was
so drawn to Leibniz, who fully accepted the philosophy, science and
mathematics of his age but maintained a highly fruitful, very critical
dialogue with the ideas of Descartes, Locke and Newton throughout his
Language and Freges theory of meaning (or the philosophical
tradition behind it) are central concerns in both analytic philosophy
and Heidegger, even if they approach it in almost diametrically opposed
ways. As has been shown, the latter extensively explores poetic language
and is trying to uncover a primordial truth anterior to propositional
truth, while the former uses simplified, clear statements, such as The
present King of France is bald to pursue an essentially Fregean
programme. That the binary quality of subject and predicate, sense
and reference in analytic philosphy reinforces the rigidity of Cartesian

A. N. Whitehead 547
subjectobject relations is evident, but one could say that Heidegger
never really succeeds in overcoming them, in spite of all his efforts to do
so. Whitehead was not insensitive to language: indeed he is always a very
precise and not infrequently a downright elegant writer, but he thought
like a mathematician or geometrician, not in the narrow, reductive sense
of the isolating of variables and finding a function to link them, in
order to establish a numerical essence for reality, but in the infinitely
expanding sense of continuously reframing mathematical problems in
novel and illuminating ways. One is reminded of Emerson:
Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another
can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning;
that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep
a lower deep opens. (Emerson 2003: 225)14

This enabled him to put subjectobject relations into a new context,

in which they could be opened out and radically rethought. Clearly,
this was of immense importance for Deleuze: Difference and Repetition
and The Fold are profoundly influenced by this aspect of Whiteheads
However, there is an important distinction to be made here, in
that one can argue as to how metaphorical Deleuzes mathematics
are,15 whereas the difficulty simply does not arise with Whitehead: he
simply was a mathematician, and he published mathematical work. The
problem, though, is that the mathematical work is difficult for nonmathematicians and can be separated out from the rest of his thought, so
there is a tendency to ignore it. This is particularly true of the response
to The Concept of Nature, where the geometric sections are usually
skipped and the metaphysical comments are extracted as indications of
how its author was to develop as a fully-fledged philosopher, but this
is a profoundly mistaken approach, as it is precisely the grittiness of
Whiteheads relational mathematical engineering that takes him beyond
a vague Swedenborgian panpsychism, however mystical or poetical
he sometimes is. This is why the paperback re-issue of An Enquiry
Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge and The Principle
of Relativity with Applications to Physical Science is particularly
significant. The former first appeared in 1919 but had a second edition in
1925, while the latter was published in 1922: together with The Concept
of Nature, which came out in 1920, they form a kind of interlocking
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge covers
much the same material as The Concept of Nature, but it is not

548 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

mostly based on lectures, as the latter book is: it is more like a wellorganised textbook, broken down into a very clearly defined structure
of larger sections and smaller subsections. This means that although
it is more dense scientifically and has a fair sprinkling of reasonably
complicated diagrams and equations, an attentive reading of it is an
invaluable supplement to The Concept of Nature, where the long verbal
descriptions and lack of diagrams sometimes make it hard to grasp
Whiteheads four-dimensional geometry in a precise, concrete way, and
the different concepts can begin to blend into each other in a kind
of oral flow, even if there is a visionary element in compensation for
this. Near the beginning of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of
Natural Knowledge, Whitehead deals with Berkeley in the same way
that a mathematician would deal with another mathematician: he goes
back to the problem behind the solution and recasts it in a way that
transforms it. The gap between moment by moment perception and the
world of objects is replaced, with some intervening input from Kant, by
the relationship between perceptual experience and knowledge, with the
latter only occurring within the former.16 There are two mathematical
systems elaborated in both An Enquiry Concerning the Principles
of Natural Knowledge and The Concept of Nature: (1) extensive
abstraction, which corresponds to the basis for scientific exploration
and (2) a four-dimensional relational geometry of instantaneous space,
which is a way of trying to understand ongoing, lived perceptual
experience, with the former being derived from the latter. Hard work on
these systems enormously enhances ones understanding of Whiteheads
philosphy, even when it shifts from the relationship between perception
and knowledge to that of perception and ontology in his more mature
philosophical thought.
The Concept of Nature is pervaded by the theory of relativity or
aspects of science, mathematics or geometry associated with it, but
it is only mentioned specifically in chapter VIII, where Whitehead
briefly explores the differences between his ideas and those of Einstein.
This means that The Concept of Nature can to a certain extent
be read in a relatively non-scientific way, even if such a reading is
bound to be somewhat skewed, but this is definitely not true of
The Principle of Relativity, which is a sustained contribution by a
practising mathematical physicist to the extraordinarily rich debate
concerning relativity in the scientific community around 1920, with
important books by Weyl, Lorentz, Born and Pauli, all offering subtle
developments and alternatives to Einsteins theories: even when these
authors have ideas which are no longer accepted today, they are still

A. N. Whitehead 549
very thought-provoking. This is true of the most interesting divergence
from the classic model in The Principle of Relativity:
The possibility of other such laws [of gravitation], expressed in sets of
differential equations other than Einsteins, arises from the fact that on my
theory there is a relevant fact of nature which is absent on Einsteins theory.
This fact is the whole bundle of alternative time stratifications arising from
the uniform significance of events. (85)

As this quotation indicates, there are some serious alternative

mathematics associated with this divergence in what is a very
mathematical book, but the idea had already been explored en passant
in The Concept of Nature. Here it emerges as a consequence of the fourdimensional instantaneous (as opposed to timeless) space configured
around the event-particle. One could say that the event-particle and
its spacetime relationship with the rest of the universe form a radically
singular, momentary, indissoluable cluster, and that none of the elements
of this cluster can be fully generalised to any other such cluster. What is
beautiful about this thought is that it can be built into a world that sings
with a deep harmony between interdependence and spontaneity: it is as
if Leibnizs monads still reflected the other monads but had been put in
Brownian motion.17
This network of related movement in spacetime, electromagnetic
waves and gravitational pull, explored in an ongoing way by fourdimensional geometry and equations, the latter mostly coming from
tensor calculus, is not without real emotional investment by Whitehead.
The very first page of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural
Knowledge contains a prominent dedication to Whiteheads youngest
son, who was killed in action in France in 1918, and at the end of the
Preface there is a reference to the anxiety during the war and at last
the anguish which is the price of victory (viii). The final section of the
1919 edition of the book, that is just before the Notes added in 1925,
concludes that the permanence of the individual rhythm within nature
is not absolutely associated with one definite set of material objects,
and then Whitehead quotes poetry from Tennyson and Wordsworth and
cites Bergsons lan vital (199200).
At the beginning of his beautiful essay, Wozu Dichter?, first delivered
in 1946 after another world war, Heidegger speaks of the poets ability
to feel the traces of the departed gods in the abyss at the centre of the
night of the worlds misery, so that this abyss can become the ground
of a change in direction for humanity. How is this done? One can avoid
concentrating exclusively on poetry and therefore parallel the dual use

550 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

of geometry and equations in Whiteheads mathematics (and elsewhere
in the theory of relativity) by comparing Trakl and Van Gogh, both
of whom were very important to Heidegger. The poet and painter put
objects on the paper or canvas in a way that is not aesthetic, emphasising
their isness or thingness, and compacting object and object or object
and space together so that lines of force appear between and around
those objects. These are the traces of the gods and of the future, but
as Heidegger says near the end of Wozu Dichter?, these are not overt
predictions of a future which is to come, but traces from the future which
work best when their action is unconscious. The lines of force are also
the Wesen, that is essence, of being, but Wesen in Heidegger is never
transcendent or eternal: it is always immanent and of the moment of
perception and/or revelation.
Strictly speaking, mathematical physics does come close to making
predictions, in that there is hope that what has been posited
geometrically or in equations will eventually be observed empirically.
This means that one should be very careful about crossing the boundary
between the theory of relativity and philosophy, however stimulating
the former may be to the latter, especially with regard to the nature of
time. Furthermore, the theory of relativity does not necessarily lend itself
to one particular type of philosophy: Cassirers neo-Kantian, Marburg
school approach to it is quite different from that of Whitehead, who is
already beginning to speculate about its application outside physics in
the very first sentence of the main text of The Principle of Relativity (3).
It is worth noting that the tensor calculus brought into the theory
of relativity by Einstein is also used by engineers to determine the
stresses and strains in solids and liquids, and this gives it a quality of
an explorative-constructive instrument that has definite affinities with
what is happening in Trakls poems or Van Goghs paintings. Even if
Heidegger is a mystical philospher of poetic depths and Whitehead a
mathematician of heuristic conceptual frames, both avoid the discrete,
circumscribed object and resolve its finitude or transience in eternal,
continuous process. One could argue that Deleuze brings these two
visions together and adds a mediating surface between them, with
Logic of Sense having a rather more interior quality than the very
Whiteheadian Difference and Repetition. Derrida may refer more overtly
to Heidegger, but there is a definite element of Heideggerian authenticity
in Deleuzes concept of being worthy of the event, although the influence
may have been felt indirectly via Sartre.18
Isabelle Stengers and Didier Debaise are both at the Universit Libre
de Bruxelles, which means that there is a certain family resemblance

A. N. Whitehead 551
between their two books Stengers Thinking with Whitehead19 and
Debaises Un Empirisme spculatif even if the two works are rather
different in scope. Stengers is a distinguished doyenne of the philosophy
of science, and her book is her magnum opus, in which she exhaustively
explores all of Whiteheads metaphysical work in relation to her own
richly matured thoughts on science and ontology, while Debaise is
a talented younger colleague and former student of hers who has
produced an excellent but relatively limited study of a single text, Process
and Reality. Nevertheless, there are a number of shared elements in
the approaches of the two authors. First, an important problem in
Whitehead scholarship is the degree to which there is a radical break
or continuity between The Concept of Nature and the later metaphysics.
Both Stengers and Debaise opt for nuanced continuity, with extensive
passages in Thinking with Whitehead being devoted to Science and
the Modern World and Religion in the Making, two understudied
transitional works between The Concept of Nature and Process and
Reality. Second, both authors also try to rectify the subtle assimilation of
Whiteheads ideas to those of Bergson or phenomenology in Continental
philosophy, while simultaneously establishing affinities with William
James. There are excellent passages doing one or the other in both
Stengers and Debaise, although hers are more extensive, as hers is by
far the longer book. Third, Whitehead has a very distinctive, rather
creative and not un-Deleuzian relationship with the philosophers from
Descartes to Kant, even if, as Stengers says, he tends to treat them as
other mathematicians, appropriating individual ideas and transforming
them, whereas Deleuze is more in the mould of Gueroult, a radical but
scholarly re-interpreter of the thought as a whole of significant figures
from the philosophical past. There are many excellent passages detailing
Whiteheads treatment of individual concepts in Descartes, Leibniz,
Locke or Hume in both Stengers and Debaise, and the former comes
very close indeed to cracking one of the key problems in Whitehead:
how he scrambles the history of the philosophy of perception in the
West and ontology in an interlocking and reflecting but complexly
asymmetrical way.20 Fourth, both authors mention Deleuze, but Stengers
does not always clearly distinguish between the ideas of Whitehead and
those of solo Deleuze or Deleuze and Guattari, while Debaise has a
very interesting section in which he explores the differences between
individuation in Whitehead and in Deleuze and Simondon. This contrast
probably stems from the fact that Stengers is often discussing her
own ideas with reference to other philosophers or thinkers who have
influenced her at the same time as she is maintaining an ongoing dialogue

552 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

with Whitehead, who of course is the main influence on her. Fifth, both
Debaise and Stengers are very good at dealing with the etymology or
associations of important words in Whitehead, in particular the names
he gives to concepts, types of entity or operations to which entities are
subject. Stengers is also aware of subtle problems in the existing French
translations of Whitehead, but obviously his texts are now given in
their original English. Debaise is a little disappointing in this respect: he
only cites these French translations of Whitehead, which are actually as
competent as translations can be, and some of them do have running
page references to the original English publications, but citations of
both French and English texts would have been better. Sixth, Stengers
demonstrates a quite exceptional mastery of Whiteheads work from
which she can pretty much quote at will and the literature connected
with it and with his creative process, but she has opted for a book
without footnotes and a relatively limited bibliography, while Debaise
has scholarly footnotes and an exhaustive and up-to-date bibliography
of publications on Whitehead in both English and French. One should
not allow the vast scale of Thinking with Whitehead to diminish the very
considerable achievement of Un Empirisme spculatif: in not that much
more than 150 pages of main text, Debaise has managed to produce
an admirably lucid, very concise, intellectually subtle and beautifully
organised account of the principal themes of Process and Reality, a work
that is renowned for its sprawling and rather inaccessible nature.
The central spine of Stengers book is made up of extended and dense
exegeses of Whiteheads most important works from The Concept of
Nature onwards. She follows the twists and turns of thought from
work to work in a way that respects individual moments of creativity
in problem solving but also establishes a remarkably unified trajectory
for Whiteheads overall philosophical journey. Broadly, it is a vision
that combines a belief in traditional empirical science with elements of
speculation, holistic thinking and inclusivity that prevent it from being
reductive and an ontology that involves a very amorphous subject in
a very interactive relationship with its world. What is missing is the
kind of divided subject one finds in Deleuze, Lyotard or Derrida, and
this is because such a subject is probably missing from Whiteheads
philosophy and has to be added to it, but that may be a way of
developing or expanding his work, which is something Stengers wishes
to do. While a divided subject can seem too binary, as if it were simply
two partial subjects instead of one, Stengers amorphous subject can still
seem too individualistic, only with more blurred boundaries and a less
solid internal consistency. This is not to say that she is wrong there

A. N. Whitehead 553
is a great deal of validity in her approach but that by eschewing the
divided subject, she is forgoing the opportunities it gives as an operation
for collapsing the subject from within and turning it into drives, which
can be linked to external forces. For example, in Arnolds problem
of whether the perimeter of a rectangle is increased by a sequence of
folding and unfolding, one can relate the pattern of the folding and
unfolding to the actions that have caused them and see the perimeter as
something responding to continuities that cross it rather than the result
of something within it.21 The divided subject is probably associated
with the types of thought that Stengers seems to be attacking in an
oblique way throughout the whole of Thinking with Whitehead. It is
difficult to be sure about what she is attacking critical epistemology,
something like Marxist critique and Rorty are alluded to en passant but
one assumes that deconstruction and poststructuralism would be part
of what she is rejecting in favour of her very subtle but still rather
traditional belief in the efficacy of empirical science. Again, she is not
wrong, but as with Heidegger, there are aspects of Derrida and Lyotard
that could be cross-phased in a fruitful and complementary way with
Whiteheads philosophy.
However much one might disagree with certain aspects of the
direction in which Stengers takes Whiteheads ideas, there is no doubt
that her exegesis of his work is superb and that it benefits enormously
from her being a creative philosopher in her own right. She begins
with The Concept of Nature, concentrating on its metaphysical side
and ignoring the extensive discussions of geometry, as is normal in
Whitehead studies. This section of Stengers book seems longer than it
is: it takes up seven of the main twenty-five chapters, but these chapters
are quite short, and there is quite a lot of quotation from Whitehead.
Nevertheless, she distils the essence of The Concept of Nature: with mind
as ultimate, it circumvents the bifurcation of nature. Everything the
glow of the sunset and the molecules and electric waves is in the same
boat. With due attention, one can extend ones perceptual capacity,
so that one is not seeing a reality behind appearance but a further
dimension of a reality that always remains undivided. A sort of
engrenage or complementarity is proposed between respondent and
world: there seems to be enough of a fit between what one can perceive
and what is out there that one can in general rely on ones perceptions
as a basis for knowledge and survival. Mind is still ultimate here, so
that is why interlocking is closer to what is happening than fusion.
Stengers introduces the image of the mountaineer climbing the mountain
as a means of conveying what this relationship is like, and it turns

554 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

into the concept of having a hold on the world as she enters into a
very long discussion of Science and the Modern World, a rather hybrid
and confusing work that Whitehead specialists have tended to neglect.
Stengers thorough exploration of this text is a particularly original
aspect of Thinking with Whitehead, and it very much provides the basis
for the rich and convincing link she makes between The Concept of
Nature and the later more purely metaphysical work.
It is now that the problem of misplaced concreteness is tackled. One
can observe reality and isolate certain variables, say: velocity, frequency
and wavelength, and then combine them into a function, in this case
v = f, which can be tested empirically. Even if there continues to be no
disproof of the function, and it remains true, it is still not out there. To
think so is misplaced abstraction, that is confusing the tool that one has
used to come to grips with reality with something that is actually out
there and has been discovered. There is an important distinction to be
made between the fact that the universe appears to be mathematisable
and human beings seem to be able to do it and the existence of a kind
of mathematical fact at the root of the universe. This is very much
the way mathematicians think: they usually prefer to make ongoing
contributions to as yet unsolved or perhaps insoluble problems, rather
than just finding answers.22 Stengers continually emphasises the way in
which Whitehead thinks like a mathematician throughout the whole of
her book. This means that it is particularly clear that the expansive
quality of due attention in The Concept of Nature and the arguments
against the reductive quality of misplaced concreteness in Science and the
Modern World are two sides of the same intellectual coin and how much
the holistic quality of their authors thought comes from his training as
a mathematician.
Another key problem in Whitehead is how one moves from eternal
objects to actual entities. He addresses this problem in a sustained
way in Science and the Modern World, using God as ultimate, and
Stengers closely tracks what one could call his rough workings for
the more finished achievement of Process and Reality, although even
here, Whitehead was continuously fine-tuning his ideas by inserting
new sentences into paragraphs which had already been written. Part
of Stengers purpose in making this detailed exposition is to show how
Whitehead was driven by the logic of the problem, but what is perhaps
more interesting is that it allows her to treat Process and Reality in a less
monolithic way and to see what it says as in a certain sense provisional
and therefore capable of further extension, something she herself does
in the later chapters of her book. It also helps one to understand how

A. N. Whitehead 555
difficult ontology is, how difficult it is to understand the relationship
between permanence and transience, how easy formulae or positions will
not work and how the problem is perhaps insoluble but always open to
fresh attempts at a deeper understanding by heuristic reframings.
God is replaced as ultimate by creativity in Processs and Reality, but
he is still there in another very important role. How Whitehead uses
God is a third key problem in the philosophers work, and Stengers
handles it very impressively. She does not simply block at the word
God and the religious vocabulary associated with him: she gets behind
this to see what problem Whitehead is trying to solve and how he is
using God as a concept in relation to it.23 This is in fact an approach one
could use with the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers that
were so important to Whitehead, and it is not surprising that Stengers is
particularly good at the difference between his notion of God and that
of Leibniz. For the Whiteheadian, what is best for that impasse seems
initially quite close to the Leibnizian best of all possible worlds, and both
conceptions are trying to get hold of the fact that the universe somehow
seems to work, but one involves omniscient divine foresight from the
outside, while the other has God as a kind of operator within actuality
inducing a certain overall positive directionality. Divine eternity becomes
more about conserving what is transient by allowing it to somehow
be incorporated into what is to come, rather than some permanent
ground beyond or within the transient. Stengers chapter twenty-four,
God and the World, is a long, intellectually very disciplined and
extremely beautiful exploration of the relationship between God, the
world, creativity and actuality.
What one could call the other side of the intellectual coin of what
is best for that impasse is the trick of evil. This is when the progress
of actuality is forced, when something comes before its time, and
it is undoubtedly an important Whiteheadian concept, but Stengers
also emphasises it for her own reasons. Her resistence to types of
thought such as critical epistemology and Rortys philosophy is not
unconnected with her antipathy to what one could call vanguard
radicalism. By and large, one is happy to eschew along with her the
Im so left-wing, I wouldnt even suck milk from my mothers right
breast tendency, and Whitehead himself was probably a consensual
progressive, as Stengers seems to be, but the very methodical nature
of his system means that there is potentially much more room for
spontaneity than she seems to allow. Indeed it is possible that she never
quite succeeds in bringing together and defining properly the parallel
leaps in speculative empiricism and in the movement from eternal objects

556 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

to actual entities.24 The way in which the link between the methodical
and the spontaneous can be developed in Whitehead can be explored in
relation to Stanislavskian theatre technique, in which there has been a
bifurcation between (1) the early Stanislavskian technique of emotional
recall which was taken up in particular by Lee Strasberg in America
but generally dropped in Russia itself and (2) the detailed scoring of the
text, breaking the action down into beats and units, something that is
done everywhere to a certain degree but can be done in minute detail in
When one puts these two strands back together, one can go
well beyond the bourgeois naturalism or emotional self-indulgence
often associated with Stanislavskian work. The present author played
Mordecai in Lope de Vegas Esther as a Hasidic Jew in a production
set in something like 1940s Hungary during the Horty regime. The
theatre was small, with the audience on the same level as the actors,
so close contact was possible between them. There was an intensely
emotional scene in which Mordecai was told of the impending holocaust
of the Jews, for which the present author used emotional recall based on
a personal traumatic childhood episode, of course stitched into other
elements of historical or mimetic research, but not in itself to do with
being Jewish or the Holocaust. Such use of emotional recall is not an
exploratory exercise, the results of which are later repeated by the use of
motor memory, but the reproduction of the actual emotional experience
every performance, with however the use of muscular controls, in the
present authors case mainly learnt through isolation work with Ryszard
Cieslak and biomechanics with Gennadi Bogdanov. It is as if ones body
has become a map of muscles that can be pressed like the stops of a
musical instrument to mould the palpable emotional flow one seems to
be channelling. The key to Stanislavski is production from the inside, not
copying from the outside, and such work has an authenticity that can
impact directly on the nervous system of audience members. In the case
of Esther, a significant percentage of the spectators on certain nights
were Jewish concentration camp survivors. On those nights, audience
members began spontaneously to talk to Mordecai, to console him,
and he began to have a probing, gliding motion, similar to African
performers using masks to be spirits, with whom the present author had
It is important to underline the highly personal and apparently
irrelevant nature of the emotional recall material. Plaited into the
more objective elements of the process, this material helps to create
a kind of broad space, simultaneously low density and superconductive,

A. N. Whitehead 557
permitting slides between self and other, and higher density, solidifying,
connecting them, but this could not happen if the material was not
in some way a response to the text or the directors interpretation of
it, however intuitive a leap it might be. The author played the older
of two male characters in a shortish piece by Dostoyevsky (Another
Mans Wife or The Husband Under The Bed), where the director
(Anatoli Vasiliev) wanted to explore the bullying of the older generation
by the younger one and a certain collapse of shared Enlightenment
values in post-Soviet Russia. The author happens to be male to female
transgendered, but has not had a sex change, and drew on an episode in
what one would now call her female (or transgendered)25 experience for
a certain section. This choice was primarily triggered by a scene from a
production of Lermontovs Masquarade by Vasiliev which he showed
in rehearsal, where the bullied character was female. This element of
clivage in the preparation was the basis for a complex effect during
a monologue in the section in question, where the authors character
talked about his feelings as if he were someone else in the distance
looking at the scene. The distance between the character and his double
was felt, but the two points were brought together, while the emotional
moment was extended, mainly by controlling the muscles of the face.
One seems very close here to the contraction of space and dilation of time
that one finds in the theory of relativity and that underpin Whiteheads
beautiful descriptions of the event, simultaneity and temporal thickness
in The Concept of Nature.26
Stengers first degree was in chemistry, and she is a distinguished
philosopher of science, so she tends to turn to the natural sciences when
she wants to explore her own ideas as a response to and development
of Whiteheads thought. This happens throughout Thinking with
Whitehead, but the roughly 140-page section of chapters nineteen to
twenty-three does this in an especially concentrated way. Each of these
five chapters uses exegeses of short passages from Process and Reality
or Modes of Thought as a springboard for an extended discussion of
a particular area. Chapter twenty-three, Modes of Existence, Modes
of Thought, which moves from a relatively reductive but important
biochemical model of life to a more holistic ethological one, is especially
impressive, but chapter nineteen, Justifying Life?, in which the subtle
Whiteheadian notion of a society is explored, and chapter twenty,
The Adventure of the Senses, which involves a very sophisticated
discussion of the problem of sensa, are also both extremely stimulating.
Quantum physics is perhaps less successfully examined in chapter
twenty-one, Actuality between Physics and the Divine: the connections

558 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

with Whitehead possibly are not established with sufficient precision.
His ideas do feel close to quantum physics because of his sustained
engagement with the theory of relativity, but while the two approaches
to physics are definitely cousins, in practice they tended to evolve
separately from each other, so some bridging work needs to be done
when one brings them together.
Another key problem in Whitehead is how his scrambling of the
history of the philosophy of perception in the West and ontology is
related to feeling in the broader sense: the holistic tendency in his
thought is very much bound up with this relationship. Stengers deals
as impressively with this problem as she does with the other ones, but
there is a subtle difficulty here. Her predilection for the natural sciences
induces, perhaps semi-consciously, a self that is rather autonomous,
unfissured and slightly passive, that progresses evenly towards a
richer understanding of the world, based on a sophisticated model
of speculative leaps and empirical observation. She is so concerned
to overcome the bifurcation of nature and to establish the engrenage
between mountaineer and mountain and the hold that humans have on
what is external to them that she does not sufficiently convey the real
dangers of mountain climbing and losing ones hold and their effect on
the psyche. Even her excellent discussion of negative prehensions and the
scars they leave at the end of chapter eighteen, Feeling Ones World,
makes what is happening seem very safe. There is never the sense of
disturbing disjunction of Rimbauds Le Dormeur du val, a short but
very intense sonnet from 1870 in which a young soldier appears to be
sleeping in a delicately described landscape only for one to discover in
the last line that he has deux trous rouges au ct droit. Of course,
Stengers is not wrong in terms of a strict exegesis of Whiteheads
thought: his obsessiveness probably betrays some kind of underlying
disquiet or anxiety, but it is very much sublimated in mathematics,
metaphysics and poetic beauty. He is more Upanishadic or Buddhist than
tantric in his approach to evil, death or impermanence.
Nevertheless, one needs to look at activities which are more proactive,
constructive or engaged, such as the arts, engineering, medical research
or social or political action, to fully understand Whiteheadian creativity,
even if one wishes to remain within the relatively smooth connectivity
and progession of his universe. One could take team sports as a
model, where there are moments of exceptional individual brilliance that
completely change matches, but they are still very much bound into the
rhythm of the team and the game as a whole. However, the structure
developed by Whitehead is so strong that one can explore a much higher

A. N. Whitehead 559
level of fear and inner turmoil to be mastered in the self and much
more radical and surprising transformations of the world, times when
new heaven, new earth and new self all emerge together. Heideggerian
authenticity and prophecy can be fused in a complementary way with
Whiteheadian mathematics and cosmology, thus avoiding the perils of
either going off the rails or simply going with the flow. There is also a
real parallel between Whiteheads very Shakespearean sense of time and
the event and Heideggers use of kairos, an early Greek concept that was
also very important in the Renaissance.27 One could go even further and
factor in poststructuralist or deconstructive techniques from Deleuze,
Derrida and Lyotard, all of which enable desire to pick out latent strands
from dominant ones and resculpt reality as a painter employs the strokes
of his or her brush to pull and push colours into different shapes and
The 1834 workers uprising in Lyons was the second of two such
uprisings in that city after the regime change that took place in France
in 1830. The first one, which happened in 1831, had been more of a
general workers uprising, but the 1834 event was distinctly political,
that is republican. By then, a large number of regular troops had been
stationed in the city, and the insurrection was put down with great
brutality and destruction. It was much closer to civil war or what is
happening in Homs or Aleppo today than to large-scale urban rioting.
Was it a trick of evil in the Whiteheadian sense, an action at the wrong
time which led to nothing but bloodshed and chaos? It is very difficult
to be sure about what was a trick of evil in the extremely fluid and
conflictive politics of nineteenth-century France, out of which, however,
a very serviceable democratic model did emerge. Which trick of evil
led to which component of that model? Was the monarchie de Juillet
progressive in the way that it allowed the bourgeoisie to establish
its political power, or did it continue to betray the real ideals of the
Revolution? Were the insurgs lyonnais simply trouble-makers harking
back to a Revolution that was in itself a trick of evil, or were they
asserting a right to take to the streets that their non-white French
descendants could take up? The modern French state inherits from both
sides in 1834, in that the bourgeoisie will never be in work camps, but
barricades will always be a possibility.28
A major poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (17861859) was in
Lyons throughout the 1834 uprising. She was working as an actress at
the Grand Thtre, but she also had three children with her who were
still quite young: they had all been born in the first half of the 1820s. She
wrote a number of poems in connection with the uprising, but two stand

560 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

out as being particularly significant: A Monsieur A.L., which appeared
in Pauvres Fleurs in 1839, and Dans La Rue, which no one dared to
publish until after her death. The first poem is very intense emotionally
and needs to be taken in slowly in order for its complexity to come
through. Three images of birds are very beautifully deployed in it: (1) a
swallow that returns to its young ones in its nest during a lightning storm
in the first two stanzas; (2) a bird that is trying to hide from hunters in
a forest in the third and fourth stanzas; and (3) a nightingale in the two
penultimate stanzas that the poet can hear singing in the destroyed city
until it is killed by an exploding shell. The deployment of the images
is beautiful because the birds are simultaneously vulnerable creatures in
peril imagined or heard by the poet, but they are also the poet herself
staying in her house in Lyons, protecting her children and hiding from
the soldiers brutally putting down the insurrection.
This link is established in the swallow stanzas in a way that has all
of the simultaneity and thickness of the event in Whitehead. Initially,
the flight of the swallow is crossed by a lightning flash. This pulls the
swallow back to the flatness of the sky and makes the crossing of the
two lines seem like an image seen by an observer in the distance. But
the swallow is afraid and is flying to its nest to be with its eggs, which
become hatched fledglings in the next stanza: this sudden shift from
tendres oeufs to le duvet dont se recouvre peine,/ Leur petite me nue
et leur gosier chanteur (Desbordes-Valmore 1983: 123) is an example
of the quite magical effects of Desbordes-Valmores language. Because
the swallow in its nest becomes the poet in her house in later stanzas,
it is as if the swallow has flown into the observers house and become
her. A swallows flight has a rapidly skimming, bobbing up and gliding
quality to it that seems to fill up the space between the far-off image and
the observer. There is a similar link between the bird in the forest hiding
from the hunters and the poet in the house hiding from the soldiers and
the nightingale singing its lament in the devastated city and the poet
singing the lament that is her poem. There is a beautiful movement
here from being silenced by terror to crying out against injustice, which
finds a parallel in the bold fifth stanza of Dans La Rue, where Les
vivants nosent plus se hasarder vivre./ Sentinelle solde, au milieu du
chemin,/ La mort est un soldat qui vise et qui dlivre/ Le tmoin rvolt
qui parlerait demain . . . (144).
This network of interconnections acts as a kind of Whiteheadian fourdimensional instantaneous space, and they frame the central section
of A Monsieur A.L., which is the tableau of the citys destruction
through her window. Even here there is spatial ambiguity: the twice

A. N. Whitehead 561
repeated Jtais l! (Desbordes-Valmore 1983: 124) can mean both
I was in Lyons during the uprising and I was out there when it
was happening. But now the extraordinary concrete, compacted, slam
dunk imagery makes Desbordes-Valmore one of Heideggers poets that
feel the traces of the departed gods in the abyss at the centre of the night
of the worlds misery. Lines such as Tuant jusqu lenfant qui regardait
sans voir,/ Et rougissant le lait encore chaud dans sa bouche . . . (124)
and Et cousant au linceul sa livide moiti,/ Ecrase au galop de la guerre
civile!/ Savez-vous que cest froid le linceul dune ville! (125) could be
Trakl, and one can see why Nerval read Desbordes-Valmore, who does
indeed feel the traces of the gods in the Whiteheadian event that fuses her
fear as a vulnerable mother with her defiant empathy for the brutalised
citizens of Lyons. One can still read her and hope for Homs and Aleppo,
that their suffering is not in vain.29
One cannot really do this with a poem one could compare with A
Monsieur A.L. and Dans La Rue: Shelleys The Mask of Anarchy
written in 1819 in response to the Peterloo Massacre, which was of
course a relatively minor incident compared with the Lyons uprising
of 1834. Nevertheless, the authorities still behaved in a violent and
repressive way. Shelleys poem is intellectually complex: it uses the
double meaning of mask as masquerade and false disguise to explore
how the government and not the people are the real perpetrators of
anarchy. This analysis of the ruses of power is astute, and it is achieved
through subtle poetic means, but one does not really have the same
sense of a swelling towards the future that one has in DesbordesValmore, even though parliamentary reform was eventually achieved,
and over half of the poem is an address by Hope to the men of
England. Shelley is in Italy, far away from what is happening which he
does acknowledge but he increases that distance by his very rhetorical
language, however strong some of the ideas and images may be.30
Desbordes-Valmore is physically with the insurgents, and she is pushing
language to express her emotional journey of fear, compassion and
defiance. She is also on a more novel trajectory as a poet, emerging as
a very distinctive female voice. She had already published the utterly
sweet but rather thoughful Le Coucher dun petit garon in 1830, and
she was to compose the heartbreaking and profound durcharbeitung
of Rve intermittent dune nuit triste, one of the most powerful of
all poems in French, in 1846. In 1834, Lyons saw the cross-phasing
of two emerging entities, intersecting like waves from two sources
in a ripple tank, but this image is not enough. It gives a good idea
of a Whiteheadian network, but it does not fully explore tapping

562 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

into the latent or virtual that one can find in Deleuze, Derrida and
Thinking with Whitehead is an exceptionally rich and deep book. It
is not easy to take in on a first reading, but it does have to be read
through from beginning to end to sense the overall compelling shape of
its argument. It is also a book to return to on innumerable occasions.
Whatever criticisms this author may have levelled at Stengers, they
have always been a response to the stimulus of her well-sustained and
vigorous mental energy, and it has always felt as if it was a privilege to
review her work.

1. The ideas in this review have benefited from enormously stimulating and
generous exchanges with James Williams.
2. A random example of this is Kneale 1949: 723, where the author adopts a
distinctly patronising tone in his discussion of Whiteheads arguments against
the unrestricted universality of natural laws.
3. See Wahl 2004. There are three studies in this book: one on William James,
which is based on a reading of his letters; another on the speculative philosophy
of Whitehead; and a third on Marcels Journal mtaphysique. The Whitehead
study is remarkably scholarly: Wahl uses all of the solo works published by the
philosopher up to 1929 and refers to innumerable reviews, books and articles
that respond to them. The essay is quite balanced in the weight it gives to
Whitehead as contributor to the theory of relativity, philosopher of science and
metaphysician. There are also some interesting comparisons between his ideas
and those of Heidegger.
4. Bergson deals most extensively with intuition as such in La Pense et le
mouvant, which has been re-edited with an extensive dossier critique by Presses
Universitaires de France as part of its superb critical edition of all of Bergsons
work: see Bergson [1938] 2009. There is an English translation of this text with
the title The Creative Mind: see Bergson 1992. For Husserls final, posthumously
published statement on his phenomenology the Krisis see Husserl 1970. It is
illuminating to compare what Husserl is trying to do in the famous appendix to
this work, The Origin of Geometry, with Whiteheads extensive use of geometry
in The Concept of Nature. Husserl considers geometry only in the context of
the relationship between a specifically human consciousness and the world,
and he seeks a primal, hidden geometry underneath or within the history of
geometry, that is an imminent universal for any lived particular. Whitehead
discusses geometry in a number of different ways, but he mainly develops it
as a required spatial framework, embedded in the moment and not timeless,
for exploring the implications of knowledge as ultimate, with nature not being
bifurcated in relation to mind, that is an enabling structure permitting subject
and object to be fused in a perceptual event without being abstracted from the
infinite continuum. Of course, these two approaches do not have to be mutually
exclusive. Merleau-Ponty was influenced by both Husserl, especially by his late
work, and Whitehead. For the latters influence on him, see Robert 2011 and the
exceptionally rich and scholarly Hamrick and Van der Veken 2011.

A. N. Whitehead 563
5. For Whitehead and quantum physics, see Lacoste Lareymondie 2006. For a
good recent book on evolutionary development biology, see Carroll 2006. The
key idea in Evo Devo is that all the organs and appendages in all animals have
evolved from a very limited number of basic genes, which means that fins, wings,
arms and legs all come from the same primordial gene, for example. It would be
interesting to connect this with the relationship between eternal ideas and the
ongoing capacity for new singularites in actual entities in Whitehead. Of couse,
the Deleuze who co-wrote A Thousand Plateaus, in which ethology is absolutely
central, had already been deeply influenced by Whitehead.
6. See Leavis 2008.
7. Whitehead 1964: 29. It is worth noting that the choice of this example
for exploring the bifurcation of nature almost certainly reflects the central
importance of electromagnetic waves and the speed of light in the earlier special
theory of relativity.
8. In particular, his lectures at Harvard were sprinkled with references to his
favourite poets, Wordsworth and Shelley. Notes taken from Whiteheads
lectures are being transcribed and made accessible online by the Whitehead
Research Project at < http://www.whiteheadresearch.org > . Look under
Research and then Whitehead Lecture Notes.
9. Obviously, the literature on poetry and other art forms in the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries in French- and German-speaking countries is vast, but
see Richard 1955 for a very beautiful, now classic, phenomenological study of
nineteenth-century French poetry, with essays on Nerval, Baudelaire, Verlaine
and Rimbaud, and see Raitt 1981 and 1986 for excellent scholarship on Villiers
de lIsle-Adam, a very important figure in French symbolism. For Husserl and
Freud, see Trincia 2008. Trincia is an Italian philosopher who has produced
valuable work on the area between Husserl, Heidegger and Freud; he also
publishes in English.
10. For a recent edition of the Lyrical Ballads, see Wordsworth and Coleridge 2006.
For extremely perceptive remarks on Wordsworth within a number of different,
fruitful contexts, see Man 1984, in particular the chapter on his poetry and that
of Hlderlin (1984: 4765).
11. There is an enormous amount of excellent criticism devoted to Nerval, but
Chambers 1969: 168219, 23868, 30742 and 1993: 83117 are especially
illuminating for the four works in question. See also Kofman 1979 and
Kristeva 1992: 13972 for extremely stimulating philosophical/psychoanalytic
treatments of Nerval.
12. A certain amount of clarity is required in citing the English translations of
Heideggers works on poetry, as they did not initially correspond to the original
German publications, as the French translations did. More recently, though,
they have done so: Heidegger 2000 translates all of Erlauterungen zu Hlderlins
Dichtung, while Heidegger 2002 does the same for Holzwege. Heidegger 1982
did translate all bar one of the essays in Unterwegs zur Sprache the piece
on Trakl is in this volume but Heidegger 1975 includes the essay omitted
from Heidegger 1982 and various essays from Heideggers other German
publications, including three pieces from Vortrge und Aufstze and two from
Holzwege. The introduction to Heidegger 1975 by the translator is short but
excellent. Heidegger 1977 includes two essays from Holzwege and two from
Vortrge und Aufstze, one of which is The Question Concerning Technology.
Heidegger also gave three lecture series on hymns by Hlderlin, which have been
published as volumes 39 (on Germanien and Der Rhein), 52 (on Andenken)
and 53 (on Der Ister) in the Gesamtausgabe. Only the series on Der Ister has
been translated into English: see Heidegger 1996. For recent high-quality work

564 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)






on Heidegger and poetry, see Lacoue-Labarthe 2007 and Stephens 2007, while
Thomson 2011 is a valuable book that deals primarily with Heidegger and the
visual arts.
For Leibniz and Descartes, see the very scholarly Belaval 1960, and for Leibniz
and Locke, see the equally impressive Jolley 1986.
This quotation is from the end of the first paragraph of Circles, which is
the tenth essay in First Essays. Emerson was a close friend of William James
father: James is the contemporary philosopher with whom Whitehead almost
certainly had the greatest affinity. For Emerson and the James family, see James
2008: xvxxxiv. For an important book of contributions by various authors on
perspective in Leibniz, Whitehead and Deleuze, see Timmermans 2006.
It is mainly Badiou, originally trained as a mathematician, who has criticised
Deleuze for not being genuinely mathematical: see in particular Badiou 2000.
See Hallward 2003 for an excellent work on Badiou as philosopher and
mathematician. Of course, Badiou deals with the philosophy of the subject and
the event in a way that is quite different from Deleuze and is not especially
Whiteheadian, although it would be interesting to explore Badious Platonic side
in relation to the residual traces of Platonism in Whitehead.
It is not surprising that Whitehead had a sustained interest in Berkeley.
The latter had anti-Cartesian and anti-Newtonian positions with regard to
mathematics, motion, abstraction and scientific method. There has been an
immense amount of excellent work on him in the last thirty or forty years.
For his ideas on mathematics, see Jesseph 1993, and for two important general
interpretations, see Winkler 1994 and Pappas 2000. Andr Breton was also
interested in Berkeley, and Gueroult wrote on him: as with his beautiful work
on Malebranche, he manages to combine an impeccable historical sense with the
capacity to make the ideas as fresh as if they had been written yesterday. It would
be interesting to compare Whiteheads, Gueroults and Deleuzes treatment of
late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Western philosophy.
See Whitehead 1964: 967, 1769, 192. One cannot emphasise enough that
an understanding of Whitehead and the philosophy of the event can be greatly
enhanced by some serious reading on concepts of space and time in modern
physics. Four books, none of which requires difficult mathematics, initially stand
out. Born 1965 is a revision of the authors text first published in German
in 1920 and is a deep but accessible work by a brilliant physicist, Davies
1977 is over thirty years old but is still fine for the classic model and is
exceptionally clear, Sklar 1992 is a now classic work that combines physics and
philosophy, while the more recent Ryckman 2005 does the same, but his book
takes a different approach from that of Sklar: he focuses on what he sees as a
transcendental idealist tendency early on in the theory of relativity as opposed to
the logical empiricist one which eventually became dominant. Whitehead does
not really fit into either of these categories: he was not Kantian and Husserlian
in the way that Weyl was Weyl was a major figure in the first tendency but
he was clearly not a logical empiricist. Reichenbach, a key influence on
Sklar, is the main theorist for this second tendency, which is explicitly
For Wozu Dichter?, see What Are Poets For? in Heidegger 1975: 91142 or
Why Poets in Heidegger 2002: 20041; for Heidegger on Trakl, see Language
in Heidegger 1975: 189210 and Language in the Poem in Heidegger 1982:
15998 these are different essays; and for Heidegger on Van Gogh, see The
Origin of the Work of Art in either Heidegger 1975: 1787 or Heidegger 2002:
156. For a recent discussion of Heidegger and Van Gogh, see Thomson 2011,
especially ch. 3, Heideggers Postmodern Understanding of Art, pp. 65120.

A. N. Whitehead 565







For a valuable study on poetry and language that deals extensively with
Heidegger, see Allen 2008. For an important work on time combining physics
and philosophy, see Reichenbach 1999. For Cassirers approach to the theory
of relativity, see Cassirer 1953. For a book on tensor calculus and the theory of
relativity that begins at a reasonably simple level mathematically, see Lowden
For the original French edition, see Stengers 2002. The English translation
is excellent: it was done by Michael Chase, who has an Australian masters
degree and a French doctorate in the history of philosophy, specialising in neoPlatonism. He has also translated at least five books by Pierre Hadot.
A second reading of Stengers very long and dense book might show that she has
in fact succeeded in doing this.
For the rumpled dollar problem, see Arnold 2005.
Arnold 2005 is a beautiful book by a great mathematician that exemplifies this
approach, which does not of course have to be limited to mathematics. For
example, the idea in Barthes that there can be multiple readings of a text comes
to mind: see especially Barthes 1991.
Her exploration of how Whitehead uses God in various ways as a concept
in Science and the Modern World and Process and Reality is enriched by her
discussion of Religion in the Making, a neglected work by Whitehead that comes
between the other two works. Both Science and the Modern World and Religion
in the Making have recently been re-issued by Cambridge University Press.
Again, a second reading of her book might show that she does do this.
The present author lives full-time as female, but she used to do male roles in
the theatre: hence the radical split in her experience she could draw on in this
production. She no longer plays male roles, so the process would be different,
although something similar would clearly be possible.
See Whitehead 1964, in particular pp. 526. The great twentieth-century
Russian theatre practitioner/theorists treat performance problems in a way that
brings them very close indeed to philosophical problems, such as identity,
self and other, intention, agency, emotion, actions and events, even if the
material is obviously not presented as philosophy. One has more substantial
writings, occasional pieces, transcriptions of teaching and reported remarks.
For Stanislavski, one is well served in English, and Michael Chekhov ended
up in America, so the material connected with him was in English from the
start. With Meyerhold, Tairov and Vakhtangov, one is better off in French, in
which LAge dHomme has published complete editions of all three directors
writings. Meyerholds ideas on actions and emotions are remarkably close to
those of William James in The Principles of Psychology. Vasiliev (or Vassiliev
when transliterated into French) has worked a great deal in France, so there is
a great deal of material connected with him in French. He initially trained as a
chemical engineer before moving on to study theatre. One should also not forget
Lee Strasberg, who was American but is important, and Grotowski, who was
Polish but trained in Russia.
See Sipiora and Baumlin 2002 for a volume of excellent essays on kairos at
different periods in history and Dosse 2010 for an extremely wide-ranging
discussion of the concept of the event in modern thought.
For the classic work on the Lyons uprisings, see Rude 2007, which was first
published in 1982. The 2007 re-edition has a valuable postface by Ludovic
Frobert. It is important to remember there were ex-combattants from the
Napoleonic Wars amongst the insurgents, which meant that they were tactically
aware. In 1834, they used a very successful combination of defensive barricades
and attacking columns, while in 1834, they could be said to have founded

566 Nardina Kaur (Guy Callan)

modern urban guerrilla warfare. In a real sense, they created a new physical
language of resistence.
29. Yves Bonnefoys preface to this volume is very perceptive. For a good recent
book on Desbordes-Valmore by the main specialist on her, see Bertrand 2009.
30. See Shelley 2009: 40011, 75962.

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Book Review

Craig Lundy (2012) History and Becoming: Deleuzes Philosophy of

Creativity, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
As is well known, Deleuze and Guattari are notable for their eschewal of
the word or in relation to potential conceptual and creative encounters.
It is always a question of and as a means of propagating difference
and becoming through a combination of rupture and affirmation,
thereby circumventing the capture of signification, recognition and
representation, binary structures which stymie the production of new
subjectivities. It thus seems anomalous to discover in the Deleuzian
canon as well as Deleuze and Guattaris later collaborations a
stubborn predilection for opposing history and becoming as mutually
incompatible, largely because the former is always identified with a
capturing, ex post facto historicism while the latter, because of its
trans-situational potential, is the very stuff (as indeterminate excess)
of philosophy. In Negotiations, for example, Deleuze unequivocally
states that Becoming isnt part of history; history amounts only to the
set of preconditions, however recent, that one leaves behind in order
to become, that is, to create something new (Deleuze 1995: 171).
A Thousand Plateaus continues the polemic, aligning history with a
syntagmatic teleology: All history does is to translate a coexistence of
becomings into a succession (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 430). Even
worse, History is always written from the sedentary point of view and
in the name of the unitary State apparatus, at least a possible one,
even when the topic is nomads. What is lacking is a Nomadology,
the opposite of a history (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 23). Becoming
is always viewed as a productive, virtual force for change (puissance);
while history/historicism is equated with power/control (pouvoir): the
actual of the State. Deleuze even goes so far as to contrast history
unfavourably with geography: We think too much in terms of history,
Deleuze Studies 8.4 (2014): 569578
Edinburgh University Press

570 Review
whether personal or universal. Becomings belong to geography, they are
orientations, directions, entries and exits (Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 2).
In his provocative new book, Craig Lundy subjects Deleuze and
Guattaris uncharacteristic binary tendencies in reducing history to
historicism to a form of immanent critique, in effect putting the
and back in the equation to create a hybrid, composite form that
is neither pure history nor pure becoming, thereby folding the virtual
into the actual and vice versa. Thus Lundy attempts to show that
historical reality is always more than the actual through its productive,
transmuting relationship with the virtual and incorporeal (and by
extension the two different forms of Stoic temporality that of Chronos
and of Aion). The result is a history irreducible to both historicism and
pure becoming an in-between composite that Lundy variously calls
history/becoming or historiophilosophy. This entails the construction
of a model of history that can be explained in five different ways
(corresponding to Lundys five different chapters), namely, the abyss
of the intensive-depth (focusing largely on the corporeal intensities of
Difference and Repetition); the dynamic surface (via the incorporeal
event of The Logic of Sense); the nomadic of A Thousand Plateaus;
the universal-contingent; and finally historiophilosophy itself through a
detailed look at the use of conceptual personae in Deleuze and Guattaris
What Is Philosophy?
In the final chapter of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze sees
creativity as a relation of depth and surface to the movement between
them, a trial run perhaps for the subsequent transverse relation of
chaoids to chaos in What Is Philosophy? Thus, as Lundy, echoing
Deleuzes position, argues,
all extensive reality is the product of an intensive process that comes from the
depths and emerges at the surface. While the creative movement from depth
to surface is referred to as a becoming, history concerns the retrospective
identification and representation of this productive process. Or does it? (10)

In attempting to rephrase this question in terms of history-as-becoming,

Lundy draws on Deleuze himself, Henri Bergson, Fernand Braudel,
Charles Pguy and Nietzsche to posit history as an intensive-depth that,
far from being anti-becoming, is actually in productive relation with it,
for if an intensive force is to move from depth to the surface, then the
historical process of production will need to be enlisted, not overcome
(10). Significantly, in On History (1980), Braudel saw this as a historical
process-in-depth, arguing that we can only come to know the life of
an event by living with it, not by externally tracking its movement.

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In contrast, in What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari cite Pguy
on the same lines but in terms of philosophy, not history:
[T]here are two ways of considering the event. One consists in going over the
course of the event, in recording its effectuation in history, its conditioning
and deterioration in history. But the other consists in reassembling the event,
installing oneself in it as in a becoming, becoming young again and aging in
it, both at the same time, going through all its components or singularities.
(Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 111)

Lundy convincingly makes the latter process compatible with history

by turning to one of Deleuzes chief philosophical forebears, Nietzsche,
who was never against history per se, only its timely incarnations (the
monumental and the antiquarian) as opposed to critical, useful history
for life. It is Nietzsches critical scepticism that questions whether
a philosopher could ever have ultimate and real opinions, whether
behind every one of his caves there is not, must not be, another deeper
cave a more comprehensive, stranger, richer world beyond the surface,
an abysmally deep ground behind every ground, under every attempt to
furnish grounds (Nietzsche 1996: 229).
Deleuze of course sees these intensities as becomings, while history
can only account for an extensive recording of intensities. This raises an
obvious series of questions: can history be intensive? Is the latter a viable
ontology and methodology of history? What would this alternative,
creative history bring into being? Following Bergson, the identity of
intensity is produced by a constitutive difference. Indeed, Deleuze is
not concerned in Difference and Repetition with a difference predicated
on spatio-temporal divisions such as past/present/future but, following
Spinoza, speeds and slownesses, issues of level, temperature, pressure,
potential in short, difference of/as intensity. Far from being cowed,
Lundy takes this as a challenge, arguing that history cannot be reducible
to time alone but must also include space that is, nomadology,
topology, geophilosophy which are all based on intensity-as-difference.
This produces an innate aporia, for if intensity/difference is to be
conditioned and correlated in and through extensivity, it ultimately must
put an end to itself: intensity is inherently suicidal. As Deleuze points out,
Intensity is difference, but this difference tends to deny or to cancel itself out
in extensity and underneath quality. It is true that qualities are signs which
flash across the interval of a difference. In so doing, however, they measure
the time of an equalization in other words, the time taken by the difference
to cancel itself out in the extensity in which it is distributed. (Deleuze 1994:

572 Review
A way out of this double bind is to show that history is itself constitutive.
Taking his lead from far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics which
evades a radical finalism Lundy attempts to show that intensive
productivity can remain open and contingent, producing differentiated
histories that can no longer be taken for granted: History becomes
constitutive at precisely that point where the future becomes open [. . . ]
Thus to allow for the contingency of the event is to affirm the historical
processes of production, not to deny them (20).
It Is here that Lundy turns to Bergsons heterogeneous multiplicity of
duration an indivisible movement irreducible to a shared homogeneous
space (epitomised by the race between Achilles and the tortoise, where
each participant is placed on their own indivisible duration, thereby
allowing Achilles to ultimately overtake his slower opponent) in order
to make history compatible with depth. Situating ourselves within the
intensive depths entails placing ourselves within the past as it moves
towards the present in order to make a composite of the two as
duration. Braudel ties this process directly to a history for life: Just
like life itself, history seems to us to be a fleeting spectacle, always in
movement, made up of a web of problems meshed inextricably together,
and able to assume a hundred different and contradictory aspects in turn
(Braudel 1980: 10). Lundy argues that each form of history needs an
appropriate explication of the different durations involved of men and
women, of societies, of worlds. Thus there can be no unilateral history,
whether dubbed economic, racial or technological.
Whereas depth for Bergson, Braudel and Pguy is in many respects an
historical depth that is intensively productive in relation to the present and
future, for Deleuze depth is a realm of becoming that is in turn overlaid by
historical extensities. How then are we to explain this discrepancy? (27)

Lundy argues that Deleuze repositions Bergson, Braudel and Pguy

against history to emphasise the future orientation of his own
philosophy-qua-philosophy. Yet the others are also future-oriented so
what is the creative role of history in this relation of depths of past
to what is to come? My claim is not just that the empirical facts of
history have an impact on what comes next, argues Lundy, but rather
that the intensive features of history are productive of the empirical
extensive facts of history (hence two kinds of history) (29). In short,
intensive-depths produce identities through their very difference, what
Nietzsche called will to power. It is the affirmation of this becoming as
Being that Nietzsche called the eternal return, for while the will to

Review 573
power is the play of difference, the eternal return is the being of that
difference it is that which is said of difference (32). Nietzsches history
is untimely, it acts counter to our time [. . . ] for the benefit of a time
to come (Nietzsche 1983: 60, cited in Lundy 2012: 35). Significantly,
when Deleuze quotes this line he omits the first half of the phrase because
of his vested interest in pitting the future against the past, contrasting
becoming to history. Conversely, Nietzsche stresses the importance of
both philology and history for life, for becoming is instrumental in
creating that very history it must be made experimental as a history
for the future. In this regard Nietzsche is perfectly Deleuzian he also
attacks historicism but in the name of history.
Shifting his attention to Deleuzes The Logic of Sense, Lundy extends
this argument from a focus on the intensive depths to the incorporeal
surface in an attempt to make this surface-becoming compatible with
nomadology and the different chaoid planes of What Is Philosophy?
Obviously, surface becoming is different than that of the depths and
requires a different model: it is organised like a chessboard with
a given plan. It has a logical organisation (the chaoid planes of
immanence, organisation and composition) which is given all at once
and stretches to infinite limits, in a constant state of renewal. This
dynamic process of creation also spills beyond each level of systematicity
as the dynamic process works transversally across and between planes
and their different levels. As Lundy points out,
The historical process that Deleuze describes and employs in the latter series
of The Logic of Sense will thus lie somewhere between these two extremes
of pure becoming and historicism. It will also lie between the depths of
corporeal bodies and the incorporeal surface, insofar as it is what generates
the movement from the former to the latter through a process of historical
creativity. (401)

Developmental becoming and historical progression cannot be reduced

to the surface itself as this will negate the innate difference of the steps
between and across the planes. This accounts for the key role of the
between in Lundys methodology.
One of the innate shortcomings of the incorporeal surface is that it
transforms the dynamic intensities of the corporeal depths into static
states of equilibrium as a base for judgement and comparison by the
intellect. Surfaces thus create actual things but these becomings are
also sterile and fixed: a form of static genesis. The latter proceeds by
processes such as prolongation, convergence, envelopment, stabilisation
and limitation in much the same way that Bergsons perception-image is

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extracted from an aggregate of images or Nietzsches creation requires a
modicum of limitation via forgetting and turning away from the abyss
of becoming. In other words, static genesis requires a dynamic genesis to
complement it, which for Lundy means that the logic of surfaces requires
a history of surfaces, in effect a history of developmental becoming.
True becoming can only unravel through the continually shifting relation
between two different realms: the corporeal/incorporeal; states of
affairs/pure events. They remain different despite their transmutations,
which allows them to collude in the task of creation. As Lundy argues,
The significance of developmental becoming thus lies in its unfinished
and dynamically progressive nature, as opposed to the already delimited
infinitives of various surface becomings (48). Developmental becoming
must not be equalised; it must be far-from-equilibrium a history open
to the future.
Lundys main metaphor here is the Herculean form, the mythic figure
who moves effortlessly between the surface and the depths, as well as to
the heights of the heavens: It is no longer a question of Dionysus down
below, or of Apollo up above, notes Deleuze, but of Hercules of the
surface, in his dual battle against both depth and height: reorientation
of the entire thought and a new geography (Deleuze 1990: 1312).
With Hercules, it is more a question of his return to the surface from
elsewhere with his plunder so that the surface is capable of refashioning
height and depth into an immanent monism or productive composite.
In other words, the surface is no longer just an enveloper, but it also
moves in a dynamic way between dualisms deep bodies and lofty
ideals. This allows Lundy to overcome the opposition between history
and becoming whereby the between is able to bring them together
through an ontology of historical creativity. This move also takes
Lundy to a new threshold and a harnessing of history to a new form
of geography nomadology and the key equation of multiplicity. To
avoid regression into an initial capturing dualism, we need to progress
to a nomadic history whereby PLURALISM = MONISM.
As we noted above, the Treatise on Nomadology The War Machine
in A Thousand Plateaus completely dismisses history as counter to
nomadology. Indeed, if nomadology opposes history, it is due to
its concern with space territory, topology rather than time. It is
geographical, aligned with becoming. The question for Lundy then
becomes: how can we excavate a Deleuzian philosophy of history
from within nomadology, the very thing that seems to most malign
it? The answer partially lies in nomadologys tendency towards
metamorphosis and deterritorialisation rather than confining itself to

Review 575
strict binary oppositions. Thus the apparent distinctions between the
smooth and the striated, the war machine and State machine (and,
by extension, pure becoming and pure history) are always mutually
implicated, often by a mediating third term that breaks the dialectic.
For example, the nomad/State dualism is split by a third element: the
machinic phylum the subterranean flow of pure becoming (Nietzsche)
or universal aggregate of action/reaction (Bergson) that flows between
them and on which they depend. As Deleuze and Guattari point out, the
great phylum is what selects through the intermediary of assemblages
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 398).
The same is true for the smooth and the striated, for their key
mechanism is the transmutation of form and how one part of the dualism
migrates to the other not just how transmutations occur between fixed
entities of smooth and striated, but how they themselves metamorphose
(that is, how the relation can differ from itself). Thus the nuclear
submarine does not convert the smooth space of the ocean into a striated
space but harnesses it for State control:
the smooth is employed by the State as smooth for the purposes of striation.
The smooth characteristics of the sea are thus maintained, but they are
redirected by State powers to achieve a level of control that the State on its
own would be incapable of. (79)

One thus can become the other while also remaining the same. Never
believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us, warn Deleuze and
Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 500).
While revolutionary becomings can spawn micro-fascisms, conversely
histories can be intensified as history for smoothing processes: the nomad
and the State can be brought back together through a shared immanence:
The smooth and the striated, in other words, are expressions of a
machinic phylum that gives itself to both (416).
While this might sound at first like a pragmatic compromise, one
should note that it is not uncharacteristic, for Deleuze and Guattari
invariably move towards a middle ethic of the between, for this is where
everything happens between pure being and pure becoming tempered
by prudence and caution.
This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with
the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential
movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them,
produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities
segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a
meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight,

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causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous
intensities for a BwO. Connect, conjugate, continue . . . (Deleuze and Guattari
1987: 161)

For Lundy, this shows the immense importance of historical processes

and relational mechanisms that link strata with lines of flight in order to
produce that small plot of new land (141).
Lundy then turns his attention to the problem of how history
begins. For example, the question of when the State apparatus emerges
cannot be found in history for it pre-exists and outlasts history it
is suprahistorical. Instead, Lundy calls for a contingent model of
simultaneity and non-linearity where the virtual (pre-history) and the
actual (history) co-exist: in short, universal history. This contingency
has three lines of creativity: (1) it remains open to the future and change;
(2) it is created by a presently existing power; and (3) it is approached
non-linearly so that it can have an influence on what it becomes. In
this sense, the traditional Marxist chronological development of State
forms for example, in the Asiatic formation the emperor-despot is
always prior to private property; agriculture gives rise to State stock is
replaced by a non-linear simultaneity. Thus the archaic State did not
come before the primitive development of a potential surplus, nor
the opposite, for they both coexist (108). Or, to put it in Deleuze
and Guattaris language, social formations are defined not by modes
of production but by the different social machines that produce those
More importantly, these modes are as much virtual as actual, and
indeed this virtuality has a concrete history: Universal history makes a
composite out of succession and simultaneity from its ability to array
an entire successive progression simultaneously (116). Capitalism is the
classic condition of this simultaneity as it determines the conditions and
possibility of its own universal history via its twin functions: its superior
power of decoding and deterritorialisation through exchange and the
endless flow of capital; and its flexible axiomatic structure which allows
it to set and then repel its own limits as well as account for all previous
(and future) societies. It universalises because of its relativity (in contrast
to the absolutism of schizophrenia which is an attempt to liberate the
world from these axiomatics). As Lundy argues,
Capitalism is able to occupy every point in history, for it has no point of its
own; it is able to interpret every coding and overcoding throughout history,
for it has no essential code or sign of its own. Like a spectre or faceless ghost,

Review 577
capitalism haunts all previous forms of society as their terrifying nightmare,
[. . . ] the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes. (122)

Lundy concludes with a look at the role of history and becoming

in Deleuze and Guattaris definition of philosophy, which leads him to
historiophilosophy as a call for a minor history. Deleuze and Guattari
define philosophy as the art of forming, inventing and fabricating
concepts which link together on the plane of immanence via their
common consistency. At the same time, every concept always has a
history, even though this history zigzags, though it passes, if need
be, through other problems or onto different planes (Deleuze and
Guattari 1994: 18). These concepts are not represented by fleshand-blood philosophers themselves Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche but
rather their conceptual personae who fabulate on their behalf Socrates,
Descartes idiot, Zarathustra, Dionysus. The latter encompass a certain
geographical uniqueness philosophy could only have come into being
given the specific conditions of ancient Greece at that time but also
historically according to the concerns of different eras. Thus Platos
concepts of One, Being and non-Being, and the Idea (predicated on
time as anterior) undergo a creative movement via Descartes cogito
(which expels time as anteriority in order to make it a simple mode of
succession referring to continuous creation). Put simply, the novelty that
is engendered by Descartes his creative act specifically occurs with
respect to Platos creation (149), whereby the cogito is prepared by
the Greek plane that precedes it (even if it is not fully accomplished).
This is surely a case of historical puissance rather than pouvoir.
Creative becoming is further exacerbated by the zigzag transverse
movement that occurs between planes of consistency which is an
inherently dynamic and nomadic movement combining intensive and
extensive forces in each measure. For Lundy, it is clear that all these
levels are directly susceptible to time (that is, it is a model of duration),
But, note Deleuze and Guattari,
if it is true that the plane of immanence is always single, being itself pure
variation, then it is all the more necessary to explain why there are varied and
distinct planes of immanence that, depending upon which infinite movements
are retained and selected, succeed and contest each other in history. The plane
is certainly not the same in the time of the Greeks, in the seventeenth century,
and today . . . (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 39)

Thus planes pass into and out of existence in time, so that the logic
of planes needs a history of planes. This does not necessarily have to
be linear, for every plane is not only interleaved but holed, letting

578 Review
through the fogs that surround it (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 51).
Consequently, a singular feature cannot be isolated from the plane
that gives it voice the breath that suffuses the different/separate parts.
Lundy concludes by calling for a historical version of what Deleuze and
Guattari call stratigraphic time, where before and after indicate
only an order of superimpositions (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 58).
In this respect, far from being an apparatus of capture in opposition
to becoming, philosophy necessarily becomes indistinguishable from its
own history (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 95; original emphasis), albeit
holey rather than linear.
Colin Gardner
University of California, Santa Barbara
DOI: 10.3366/dls.2014.0170

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