Deleuze and the Lacanian Real
Slavoj Zizek

Author’s Bio

Why is structuralism serious? For the serious to be truly serious, there must be the serial, which is made up of elements, of results, of configurations, of homologies, of repetitions. What is serious for Lacan is the logic of the signifier, that is to say the opposite of a philosophy, inasmuch as every philosophy rests on the appropriateness, transparency, agreement, harmony of thought with itself. There is always some part hidden, in a philosophy, an I = I, which constitutes what Lacan called at some moment ‘the initial error in philosophy,” which consists in privileging this equality and thus making one believe that the ‘I’ is contemporary with itself, while its constitution is always after the emergence of its cause, of petit a. The unconscious means that thought is caused by the non-thought that one cannot recapture in the present, except by capturing it in its consequences. This is how Georges Dandin recaptures the consequence of stopped time when he stops to say: Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin! (You wanted it, Georges Dandin.) He makes time stop to recapture in the consequence what was caused by the non-thought. [1]

The only thing one cannot fully agree with in this quoted passage concerns Miller’s (and Lacan’s) all too quick and slick condemnation of philosophy: the very German idealist who articulated the infamous I=I, the formula of the I’s self-identity Lacan is distancing himself from, Fichte, also made clear the subject’s dependence on a cause which is de-centered with regard to the subject. Fichte was the first philosopher to focus on the uncanny contingency in the very heart of subjectivity: the Fichtean subject is not the overblown Ego=Ego as the absolute Origin of all reality, but a finite subject thrown, caught, in a contingent social situation forever eluding mastery. It is important to bear in mind the two primary meanings of Anstoss in German: check, obstacle, hindrance, something that resists the boundless expansion of our striving, but also impetus, stimulus, something that incites our activity. Anstoss is not simply the obstacle the absolute I posits to itself in order to stimulate its activity so that, by overcoming the self-posited obstacle, it asserts its creative power, like the games the proverbial perverted ascetic saint plays with himself by inventing ever new temptations and then, in successfully resisting them, confirming his strength. If the Kantian Ding an sich corresponds to the Freudian-Lacanian Thing, Anstoss is closer to objet petit a, to the primordial foreign body that “sticks in the throat” of the subject, to the object-cause of desire that splits it up: Fichte himself defines Anstoss as the non-assimilable foreign body that causes the subject division into the empty absolute subject and the finite determinate subject, limited by the non-I. Anstoss thus designates the moment of the “run-in”, the hazardous knock, the encounter of the Real in the midst of the ideality of the absolute I: there is no subject without Anstoss, without the collision with an element of irreducible facticity and contingency – “the I is supposed to encounter within itself something foreign.” The point is thus to acknowledge “the presence, within the I itself, of a realm of irreducible otherness, of absolute contingency and incomprehensibility… Ultimately, not just Angelus Silesius’s rose, but every Anstoss whatsoever ist ohne Warum.” In clear contrast to the Kantian noumenal Ding that affects our senses, Anstoss does not come from outside, it is stricto sensu ex-timate: a non-assimilable foreign body in the very core of the subject – as Fichte himself emphasizes, the paradox of Anstoss resides in the fact that it is simultaneously “purely subjective” and not produced by the activity of the I. If Anstoss were not “purely subjective”, if it were already the non-I, part of objectivity, we would fall back into “dogmaticism”, i.e. Anstosswould effectively amount to no more than a shadowy remainder of the Kantian Ding an sich and would thus bear witness to Fichte’s inconsequentiality (the commonplace reproach against Fichte); if Anstoss were simply subjective, it would present a case of the subject’s hollow playing with itself, and we would never reach the level of objective reality, i.e. Fichte would effectively be a solipsist (another commonplace reproach against his philosophy). The crucial point is that Anstoss sets in motion the constitution of “reality”: at the beginning is the pure I with the non-assimilable foreign body in its heart; the subject constitutes reality by way of assuming a distance towards the Real of the formless Anstoss and conferring on it the structure of objectivity. What imposes itself here is the parallel between the Fichtean Anstoss and the Freudian-Lacanian scheme of the relationship between the primordial Ich (Ur-Ich) and the object, the foreign body in its midst, which disturbs its narcissistic balance, setting in motion the long process of the gradual expulsion and structuration of this inner snag, through which (what we experience as) “external, objective reality” is constituted.

The temporality of the subject’s cause is not that of the linear deployment of time (and of the corresponding notion of causality in which past causes determine the present); it is the temporality of a circular time in which “time stops” when, in a convoluted self-relating, the subject posits its own presupposed cause. Miller himself concedes this when he points out that the cause of desire is “a cause moreover which is posed by retroaction.” It is in this precise sense that subject and object are correlative: the subject’s emergence, his breaking of (cut into, suspension of) the linear causality of “reality” has a cause, but a cause which is retroactively posited by its own effect. It is this minimal retroactivity, not just some kind of structural “complexity,” which allows us to pass from linear natural causality, no matter how complex it is, to structural causality proper.

“You wanted it, Georges Dandin.” quoted by Miller is a line from Molière in which the subject is reminded that the present deadlock that befalls him is the un-intended outcome of his own past acts; Miller gives it an additional twist: the subject should recapture in the consequence that he encounters in reality the results of their absent and non-thought cause – in the case of Billy Bathgate, he should recapture in the two “real” objects, the novel and the film, the consequences of their virtual cause, the spectral “better novel.”

Deleuze characterized his reading of philosophers as guided by the tendency “to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery” or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed.” [2] Deleuze is here deeply Lacanian: does Lacan not do the same in his reading of “Kant with Sade”? Jacques-Alain Miller once characterized this reading with the same words as Deleuze: the aim of Lacan is “to take Kant from behind,” to produce the Sadean monster as Kant’s own offspring. (And, incidentally, does the same not go also for Heidegger’s reading of pre-Socratic fragments? Is he also not “taking from behind” Parmenides and Heraclitus? Is his extensive explanation of Parmenides’ “Being and thought are the same” not one of the greatest buggeries in the history of philosophy?) The term “immaculate conception” is to be linked to the notion, from The Logic of Sense, of the flow of sense as infertile, without a proper causal power: Deleuzian reading does not move at the level of the actual imbrication of causes and effects; it stands to “realistic” interpretations as anal penetration does with regard to proper vaginal penetration.

This Deleuzian procedure has an unexpected theological precedent – not the Christian immaculate conception, to which he himself refers, but the Jewish legend about the birth of the Messiah, reported by Joseph in a monoscript from the 13th century. God wants to give birth to the Messiah, but knows that all of the forces of evil are waiting in front of the vagina of Shekina to kill the Messiah the minute he is born. So God goes at night to his mistress, Lilith, the symbol of evil, and penetrates her anally (the expression used can also mean that he pees into her vagina). The Messiah will come from Lilith after anal sex: this is the way God tricks the forces of evil, by bringing the Messiah through evil. [3]

If the founding move that establishes a symbolic universe is the empty gesture, how is a gesture emptied? How is its content neutralized? Through repetition. Giorgio Agamben tried to indicate this process with the notion of profanation: in the opposition between sacred and secular, profanation of the secular does not equal secularization; profanation puts the sacred text or practice into a different context, it subtracts it from its proper context and functioning. As such, profanation remains in the domain of the non-utility, merely enacting a “perverted” non-utility. To profanate a mass is to perform a black mass, not to study the mass as object of the psychology of religion. In Kafka’s The Trial, the weird extended debate between Joseph K. and the Priest about the Law (which follows the parable of the Door of the Law) is deeply profanatory – one can even say that Kafka is the greatest profanator of the Jewish Law. As such, profanation – not secularization – is the true materialist undermining of the Sacred: secularization always relies on its disavowed sacred foundation, which survives either as exception or as a formal structure. Protestantism realizes this split between the Sacred and the secular at its most radical: it secularizes the material world, but keeps religion apart, plus it introduces the formal religious principle into the very capitalist economy. (Mutatis mutandis, the same goes for the Stalinist Communism – it is secularized, not profaned religion.)

Here one should perhaps supplement Agamben: if we conceive profanation as the gesture of extraction from the proper life-world context and use, is not such an extraction also THE VERY DEFINITION OF SACRALIZATION? Say, apropos of poetry: is not the “birth” of poetry when a phrase or group of words is “decontextualized” and gets caught into an autonomous repetitive insistence? When, instead of “come here,” I say “come, come here,” is this not the minimum of poeticization? There is thus a zero-level at which profanation cannot be distinguished from sacralization. So we have here again the same paradox of displaced classification as the one of passive, active, and middle verbs analyzed by Emile Benveniste (the original opposition is not the one between passive and active, with the middle intervening as a third mediating/neutral moment, but between active and middle): the original opposition is between secular-everyday-utile and the Profane, and the “Sacred” stands for the secondary shift/mystification of the Profane. The emergence of the human/symbolic universe resides in the minimum gesture of the “profanatory decontextualization” of a signal or gesture, and “sacralization” comes afterwards, as an attempt to gentrify, to domesticate, this excess, this rapturous impact, of the profane. In Japanese, bakku-shan signifies “a girl who looks as though she might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn’t when seen from the front” – is the relationship between profane and sacred not something like this? A thing which appears (is experienced as) sacred when viewed from behind, from a proper distance, is effectively a profane excess… To paraphrase Rilke, Sacred is the last veil that conceals the horror of the Profane.

So what would the profanation of Christianity be? What if Christ himself – the embodiment of God in a ridiculous mortal, the comical aspect of it – already IS the profanation of divinity? What if, in contrast to other religions which can be profaned by men, only in Christianity God profanes HIMSELF?

Laclau’s duality of difference and equivalence remains caught in the logic of external opposition. What Laclau doesn’t develop is the conceptual mediation of the two opposites, i.e., how the very logic of difference (differentiality: the identity of each element resides only in its difference towards all others) IMMANENTLY leads to antagonism. Differentiality, in order to remain pure (i.e., to avoid the reference to any kind of external support in the guise of some element which is not grounded in differences but sustains itself in its identity), has to include a marker of the difference between the field (of differences) itself and its outside, i.e., a “pure” difference. This “pure” difference, however, already has to function as antagonism, i.e., it is what curtails/thwarts the identity of each of the elements. This is why, as Laclau put it, external difference is always also internal difference: it is not only that the difference between the field itself and its outside has to be reflected into the field itself, preventing its closure, thwarting its fullness; it is also that the differential identity of every element is simultaneously constituted and thwarted-curtailed by the differential network.

In Henning Mankel’s police procedural series, Inspector Kurt Wallander has a father whose means of survival is painting – he paints all the time, in hundreds of copies, the same painting, the forrest landscape over which the sun never set (therein resides the ÈmessageÇ of the painting: it is possible to hold the sun captive, to prevent it from setting, to freeze a magical moment, extracting its pure appearance from nature’s eternal circular movement of generation and degeneration. There is, however, a “minimal difference” in these otherwise identical paintings: in some of them, there is a small grouse in the landscape, while others are without the grouse, as if eternity itself, frozen time, has to be sustained by a minimal variation, a kind of stand-in of painting’s reality for what really distinguishes each painting, its unique purely virtual intensity.

If “individuation is a relation conceived as a pure or absolute between, a between understood as fully independent of or external to its terms – and thus a between that can just as well be described as ‘between’ nothing at all” (Hallward 154), its status is then that of a pure antagonism. Its structure was deployed by Lacan apropos sexual difference which, as a difference, precedes the two terms between which it is the difference: the point of Lacan’s “formulas of sexuation” is that both masculine and feminine position are two ways to avoid the deadlock of the difference as such. This is why Lacan’s claim that sexual difference is “real-impossible” is strictly synonymous with his claim that “there is no sexual relationship.” Sexual difference is for Lacan not a firm set of “static” symbolic oppositions and inclusions/exclusions (heterosexual normativity that relegates homosexuality and other “perversions” to some secondary role), but the name of a deadlock, of a trauma, of an open question, of something that RESISTS every attempt at its symbolization. Every translation of sexual difference into a set of symbolic opposition(s) is doomed to fail, and it is this very “impossibility” that opens up the terrain of the hegemonic struggle for what “sexual difference” will mean. And the same goes for the political difference (class struggle): the difference between Left and Right is not only the difference between the two terms within a shared field, it is “real” since it is not possible to provide its neutral description – the difference between the Left and the Right appears differently if perceived from the Left and from the Right: for the first, it signals the antagonism which cuts across the entire social field (the antagonism concealed by thje Right), while the Right perceives itself as the force of moderation and social stability and organic unity, with the Left reduced to the position of an intruder that disturbs this organic stability of the social body – for the Right, the Left is as such “extreme.”

Let us all hear yet another time Levi-Strauss’s exemplary analysis, from his Structural Anthropology, of the spatial disposition of buildings in the Winnebago, one of the Great Lake tribes. The tribe is divided into two sub-groups (“moieties”), “those who are from above” and “those who are from below”; when we ask an individual to draw on a piece of paper, or on sand, the ground-plan of his/her village (the spatial disposition of cottages), we obtain two quite different answers, depending on his/her belonging to one or the other sub-group. Both perceive the village as a circle; but for one sub-group, there is within this circle another circle of central houses, so that we have two concentric circles, while for the other sub-group, the circle is split into two by a clear dividing line. In other words, a member of the first sub-group (let us call it “conservative-corporatist”) perceives the ground-plan of the village as a ring of houses more or less symmetrically disposed around the central temple, whereas a member of the second (“revolutionary-antagonistic”) sub-group perceives his/her village as two distinct heaps of houses separated by an invisible frontier… The central point of Lévi-Strauss is that this example should in no way entice us into cultural relativism, according to which the perception of social space depends on the observer’s group-belonging: the very splitting into the two “relative” perceptions implies a hidden reference to a constant – not the objective, “actual” disposition of buildings but a traumatic kernel, a fundamental antagonism the inhabitants of the village were unable to symbolize, to account for, to “internalize”, to come to terms with, an imbalance in social relations that prevented the community from stabilizing itself into a harmonious whole. The two perceptions of the ground-plan are simply two mutually exclusive endeavors to cope with this traumatic antagonism, to heal its wound via the imposition of a balanced symbolic structure. Is it necessary to add that things stand exactly the same with respect to sexual difference: “masculine” and “feminine” are like the two configurations of houses in the Levi-Straussian village? And in order to dispel the illusion that our “developed” universe is not dominated by the same logic, let us return to our example of political struggle, of the splitting of our political space into Left and Right: a Leftist and a Rightist behave exactly like members of the opposite sub-groups of the Levi-Straussian village. They not only occupy different places within the political space; each of them perceives differently the very disposition of the political space – a Leftist as the field that is inherently split by some fundamental antagonism, a Rightist as the organic unity of a Community disturbed only by foreign intruders.

In this precise sense, sexual (or political) difference is the “dark precursor”, never present, a purely virtual “pseudo-cause”, the X which always (constitutively) “lacks at its own place” (all its actualizations already displace it) and, as such, distributes the two actual series (masculine and feminine in sexuality, the Right and the Left in politics). In this sense, Lacan advocates a non-relational concept of phallus: the phallic signifier “founds sexuality in its entirety as system or structure”: it is in relation to the phallic object that the variety of terms and the variation of differential relations are determined in each case /…/. The relative places of the terms in the structure depend first on the absolute place of each, at each moment, in relation to the object=x that is always circulating, always displaced in relation to itself /…/. Distributing the differences through the entire structure, making the differential relations vary with its displacements, the object=x constitutes the differentiating element of difference itself. [4]

Here, however, one should be careful to avoid the same trap as the one that lurks apropos Deleuze’s notion of pure past: this fixed element which, as the “absent cause”, distributes the elements, is a purely virtual element which is present only in its effects and is, as such, retroactively posited (pre-supposed) by its effects; it has no substantial independent existence prior to this process.

This brings us to the dimension of symbolic castration: phallus as the signifier of the pure virtuality of meaning has to be a “signifier without signified”: it is non-sense, the absence of any determinate meaning, which stands for the virtuality of pure meaning. (Or, to put it in more Deleuzian terms: the very counter-actualization, the move backwards from actuality to the virtual field that is its transcendental condition, has to occur WITHIN actuality, as a displacement, disorder, out-of-joint, of the elements within this order.) This is why it is not nonsensical to speak about “signifier without signified”: this absence of meaning is in itself a positive feature, inscribed into the field of meaning as a hole gaping in its midst. (In a homologous way, Jews are the “phallic” nation, the “phallic” element among nations: they are a nation without land, but so that this absence is inscribed into their very being, as the absolute reference to the virtual land of Israel.)

Art “allows for an absolute and genuinely transformative liberation-expression, precisely because what it liberates is nothing other than the liberating itself, the movement of pure spiritualization or dematerialization” (Hallward 122): what has to be liberated is ultimately liberation itself, the movement of “deterritorializing” all actual entities. This self-relating move is crucial – and, along the same lines, what desire desires is not a determinate object but the unconditional assertion of desiring itself (or, as Nietzsche put it, the will is at its most radical the will to will itself).

Therein resides the ultimate irony of Deleuze’s critique of Hegel: when, against Hegel, Deleuze claims that creation “is immediately creative; there is no transcendent or negating subject of creation that might need time in order to become conscious of itself or otherwise catch up with itsellf” (Hallward 149), he thereby imputes to Hegel a substantialization-reification which is not there and, in this way, obliterates precisely that dimension in Hegel which is the closest to Deleuze himself. Hegel repeatedly insists that Spirit is “a product of itself”: it is not a pre-existing Subject intervening into objectivity, sublating-mediating it, but the result of its own movement, i.e., pure processuality. As such, it does not need time to “catch up with itself,” but simply to generate itself.

In order to describe the blind “seer” (blind to actual reality but sensible to the virtual dimension of things), Deleuze resorts to a wonderful metaphor of a spider deprived of eyes and ears but infinitely sensitive bto whatever resonates through his virtual web: “Actual or constituted forms slip through the web and make no impression, for the web is designed to vibrate only on contact with virtual or intensive forms. The more fleeting or molecular the movement, the more intense its resonance through the web. The web responds to the movements of a pure multiplicity before it has taken on any definite shape.” (Hallward 118)

When Deleuze talks about a process which creates and sees in a single movement, he thereby consciously evokes the formula of intellectual intuition, the prerogative of God alonbe. Deleuze pursues a pre-critical agenda, passionately defending Spinoza’s and Leibniz’s metaphysical “realism” (direct insight into the very core of things in themselves) against Kant’s “critical” limitation of our knowledge to the domain of phenomenal representations. However, the Hegelian reply to this would have been: what if the distance of re-presentation, the distance that renders the thing inaccessible to us, is inscribed into the very heart of the thing itself, so that the very gap that separates us from the thing includes us into it – therein resides the core of the Hegelian Christology, in which our alienation from God coincides with the alienation of God from himself. Deleuze says that propositions do not describe things but are the verb al actualization of those things, i.e. these things themselvese in theire verbal mode – would Hegel not claim, in the same way, that our re-presentation of God is God himself in the mode of representation, that our erroneous perception of God is God himself in erroneous mode?

Here is how Hallward formulates the core of Deleuze’s critical rejection of Hegel: “whereas according to Hegel anmy given ‘thing differs with itself because it differs first with all that it is not,’ i.e. with all the objects to which it relates, Deleuze’s Bergson affirms that a ‘thing differs with itself first, immediately,’ on account of the ‘internal explosive force’ it carries within itself.” If ever there was a straw-man, it is Deleuze’s Hegel: is not Hegel’s basic insight precisely that every external opposition is grounded in the things immanent self-opposition, i.e., that every external difference implies self-difference? A finite being differs from other (finite) things because it is already not identical with itself.

Deleuze accepts the Leibnizean hierarchy of monads: the difference between monads is ultimately quantitative, i.e., every monad is substantially the same, it expresses the whole infinite world, but with a different, always specific, quantitative intensity and adequacy: at the one – lowest – extreme there are “darkened monads” with only one clear perception, their hatred of God; at the other – highest – extreme, there are “reasonable monads” which can open themselves to reflect the entire universe. What, in a monad, resiststhe full expression of God is its stubborn attachment to its creatural delusion, to its particular (ultimately material) identity. Humanity occupies here the place of the highest tension: on the one hand, humans are, even more than other living beings, caught in the thrall of absolute egotism, obstinately focused on the preservation of the identity of their Self (which is why, for Deleuze, the highest task of philosophy is to elevate man above his human condition, to the “inhuman” level of the “overman”); on the other hand, Deleuze agrees with Bergson that man stands for a unique breakthrough and the highest point in the evolution of life – with the emergence of consciousness, a living being is finally able to by-pass its material (organic) limitations and advance to a purely spiritual plan of the unity with the divine All… From a Hegelian standpoint, one can say that what Deleuze fails to fully percveive is what, among others, Schelling saw clearly: the ultimate identity of these two features, of the lowest and the highest: it is precisely THROUGH his stubborn attachment to his singular Self that a human individual is able to extract himself from the particular convolutions of actual life (with its circular movement of generation and corruption) and enter in relation with virtual eternity. This is why (insofar as another name for this egotistic stubborn attachment is Evil) Evil is a formal condition of the rise of the Good: it literally creates the space for the Good.

For example, in the social sphere, this is how economy exerts its role of determining the social structure “in the last instance”: economy in this role is never directly present as an actual causal agent, its presence is purely virtual, it is the social “pseudo-cause”, but, precisely as such, absolute, non-relational, the absent cause, something that is never “at its own place”: “that is why ‘the economic’ is never given properly speaking, but rather designates a differential virtuality to be interpreted, always covered over by its forms of actualization” (DR 186). It is the absent X which circulates betweenh the multiple series of the social field (economic, political, ideological, legal…), distributing them in their specific articulation. One should thus insist on the radical difference between the economic as this virtual X, the absolute point of reference of the social field, and the economic in its actuality, as one of the elements (“subsystems”) of the actual social totality: when they encounter each other, i.e., to put it in Hegelese, when the virtual economic encounters in the guise of its actual counterpart itself in its “oppositional determination”, this identity coincides with absolute (self)contradiction.

This brings us to the central paradox of Deleuze’s thought: perhaps the most succinct definition of his philosophy would have been that it is a “Fichteanized Spinozism” – and we should just bear in mind that Fichte was (perceived himself as) the absolute anti-Spinozist. In Deleuze’s notion of pure Life as the flux of virtual creativity, Spinoza’s substance as causa sui overlaps with the Fichtean self-positing of the pure absolute I: The concept posits itself to the same extent that it is created. What depends on a free creative activity is also that which, independently and necessarily, posits itself in itself: the most subjective will be the most objective. (WP 11)

This purely virtual self-referential creating moves at infinite speed, since it needs no externality in/through which to mediate its self-positing movement: “Infinite speed thus describes a movement that no longer has anything to do with actual movement, a purely virtual ‘movement’ that has alwayus reached its destination, whose moving is itself its own destination.” [5]

This is why Deleuze insists that desire has no object (whose lack would trigger and sustain its movement): desire is “a purely virtual ‘movement’ that has alwayus reached its destination, whose moving is itself its own destination.” This is the thrust of Deleuze’s reading of masochism and courtly love – in both cases, not logic of sacrifice, but how to sustain the desire… According to the standard reading of masochism, the masochist, like everyone, also looks for pleasure; his problem is that, because of the internalized superego, he has to his access to pleasure with the pain, to pacify the oppressive agency which finds pleasure intolerable. For Deleuze, on the contrary, the masochist chooses pain in order to dissolve the pseudo-link of desire with pleasure as its extrinsic measure. Pleasure is in no way something that can only be reached via the detour of pain, but that which has to be delayed to the maximum since it is something which interrupts the continuous process of the positive desire. There is an immanent joy of desire, as if desire fills itself with itself and its contemplations, and which does not imply any lack, any impossibility. (MP-192)

And the same goes for the courtly love: its eternal postponement of fulfillment does not obey a law of lack or an ideal of transcendence: here also, it signals a desire which lacks nothing, since it finds its fulfillment in itself, in its own immanence; every pleasure is, on the contrary, already a re-territorialization of the free flux of desire. (193)

Recall the old Catholic strategy to guard men against the temptation of the flesh: when you see in front of you a voluptuous feminine body, imagine how it will look in a couple of decades – the dried skin, sagging breasts… (Or, even better, imagine what lurks now already beneath the skin: raw flesh and bones, inner fluids, half-digested food and excrements…) Far from enacting a return to the Real destined to break the imaginary spell of the body, such a procedure equals the escape from the Real, the Real announcing itself in the seductive appearance of the naked body. That is to say, in the opposition between the spectral appearance of the sexualized body and the repulsive body in decay, it is the spectral appearance with is the Real, and the decaying body which is reality – we take recourse to the decaying body in order to avoid the deadly fascination of the Real which threatens to draw us into its vortex of jouissance.

A “raw” Platonism would have claimed here that only the beautiful body fully materializes the Idea, and that a body in its material decay simply falls of from its Idea, is no longer its faithful copy. From a Deleuzian (and, here, Lacanian) view, on the contrary, the specter that attracts us is the Idea of the body as Real. This body is not the body in reality, but the virtual body in Deleuze’s sense of the term: the incorporeal/immaterial body of pure intensities.

Deleuze’s most radical anti-Hegelian argument concerns pure difference: Hegel is unable to think pure difference which is outside the horizon of identity/contradiction; Hegel conceives a radicalized difference as contradiction which, then, through its dialectical resolution, is again subsumed under identity. (Here, Deleuze is also opposed to Derrida who, from his perspective, remains caught within the vicious cycle of contradiction/identity, merely postponing resolution indefinitely.) And insofar as Hegel is the philosopher of actuality/actualization, insofar as, for him, the “truth” of a potentiality is revealed in its actualization, Hegel’s inability to think pure difference equals his inability to think the virtual in its proper dimension, as a possibility which already qua possibility possesses its own reality: pure difference is not actual, it does not concern different actual properties of a thing or among things, its status is purely virtual, it is a difference which takes place at its purest precisely when nothing changes in actuality, when, in actuality, the SAME thing repeats itself. – Effectively, it may appear that it is only Deleuze who formulates the truly post-Hegelian program of thinking difference: the Derridean “opening” which emphasizes the endless difference, the dissemination that cannot ever be sublated/reappropriated, etc., remains within the Hegelian framework, merely “opening” it up…

But, here, the Hegelian counter-argument would have been: is then the “pure” virtual difference not the very name for actual self-identity? Is it not CONSTITUTIVE of actual identity? More precisely, in the terms of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, pure difference is the virtual support/condition of actual identity: an entity is perceived as “(self-)identical” when (and only when) its virtual support is reduced to a pure difference. In Lacanese, pure difference concerns the supplement of the virtual object (Lacan’s objet a); its most plastic experience is that of a sudden change in (our perception of) an object which, with regard to its positive qualities, remains the same: “although nothing changes, the thing all of a sudden seemed totally different” – as Deleuze would have put it, it is the thing’s intensity which changes. (For Lacan, the theoretical problem/task is here to distinguish between the Master-Signifier and objet a which both refer to the abyssal X in the object beyond its positive properties.) As such, pure difference is closer to antagonism than to the difference between two positive social groups one of which is to be annihilated. The universalism that sustains an antagonistic struggle is not exclusive of anyone, which is why the highest triumph of the antagonistic struggle is not the destruction of the enemy, but the explosion of the “universal brotherhood” in which agents of the opposite camp change sides and join us (recall the proverbial scenes of police or military units joining the demonstrators). It is in such explosion of enthusiastic all-encompassing brotherhood from which no one is in principle excluded, that the difference between “us” and “enemy” as positive agents is reduced to a PURE formal difference.

This brings us to the topic of difference, repetition, and change (in the sense of the rise of something really new). Deleuze’s thesis according to which New and repetition are not opposed, i.e., according to which New arises only from repetition, is to be read against the background of the difference between the Virtual and the Actual. To put it directly: changes which concerns only the actual aspect of things are only changes within the existing frame, not the emergences of something really New – New only emerges when the virtual support of the Actual changes, and this change occurs precisely in the guise of a repetition in which a thing remains the same in its actuality. In other words, things really change not when a transforms itself into B, but when, while A remains exactly the same with regard to its actual properties, it imperceptibly “totally changes”…

The Lacanian Real, in its opposition to the Symbolic, has ultimately nothing whatsoever to do with the standard empiricist (or phenomenological, or historicist, or Lebensphilosophie, for that reason) topic of the wealth of reality that resists formal structures, that cannot be reduced to its conceptual determinations – language is grey, reality is green… The Lacanian Real is, on the contrary, even more “reductionist” that any symbolic structure: we touch it when we subtract from a symbolic field all the wealth of its differences, reducing it to a minimum of antagonism. Lacan himself is here not beyond reproach, since he gets sometimes seduced by the rhizomatic wealth of language beyond (or, rather, beneath) the formal structure that sustains it. It is in this sense that, in the last decade of his teaching, he deployed the notion of lalangue (sometimes simply translated as “llanguage”) which stands for language as the space of illicit pleasures that defy any normativity: the chaotic multitude of homonymies, word-plays, “irregular” metaphoric links and resonances… Productive as this notion is, one should be aware of its limitations. Many commentators have noted that Lacan’s last great literary reading, that of Joyce to whom his late seminar (XXIII: Le sinthome [6]) is dedicated, is not at the level of his previous great readings (Hamlet, Antigone, Claudel’s Coufontaine-trilogy). There is effectively something fake in Lacan’s fascination with late Joyce, with Finnegan’s Wake as the latest version of the literary Gesamtkunstwerk with its endless wealth of lalangue in which not only the gap between singular languages, but the very gap between linguistic meaning and jouissance seems overcome and the rhizome-like jouis-sense(enjoyment-in-meaning: enjoy-meant) proliferates in all directions. The true counterpart to Joyce is, of course, Samuel Becket: after his early period in which he more or less wrote some variations on Joyce, the “true” Becket constituted himself through a true ethical act, a CUT, a rejection of the Joycean wealth of enjoy-meant, and the ascetic turn towards a “minimal difference,” towards a minimalization, “subtraction,” of the narrative content and of language itself (this line is most clearly discernible in his masterpiece, the trilogy Molloy – Malone Dies – L’innomable). So what is the “minimal difference” – the purely parallax gap – that sustains Becket’s mature production? One is tempted to propose the thesis that it is the very difference between French and English: as is known, Becket wrote most of his mature works in French (not his mother tongue), and the, desperate at the low quality of translations, translated them himself into English, and these translations are not mere close translations, but effectively a different text.

It is because of this “minimalist” – purely formal and insubstantial – status of the Real that, for Lacan, repetition precedes repression – or, as Deleuze put it succinctly: “We do not repeat because we repress, we repress because we repeat.” (DR-105) It is not that, first, we repress some traumatic content, and then, since we are unable to remember it and thus to clarify our relationship to it, this content continues to haunt us, repeating itself in disguised forms. If the Real is a minimal difference, then repetition (that establishes this difference) is primordial; the primacy of repression emerges with the “reification” of the Real into a Thing that resists symbolization – only then, it appears that the excluded/repressed Real insists and repeats itself. The Real is primordially nothing but the gap that separates a thing from itself, the gap of repetition.

The consequence of this is also the inversion in the relationship between repetition and remembrance. Freud’s famous motto “what we do not remember, we are compelled to repeat” should thus be turned around: what we are unable to repeat, we are haunted with and are compelled to memorize. The way to get rid of a past trauma is not to rememorize it, but to fully REPEAT it in the Kierkegaardian sense.

What is the Deleuzian “pure difference” at its purest, if we may put it in this tautological way? It is the purely virtual difference of an entity which repeats itself as totally identical with regard to its actual properties: “there are significant differences in the virtual intensities expressed in our actual sensations. These differences do not correspond to actual recognizable differences. That the shade of pink has changed in an identifiable way is not all-important. It is that the change is a sign of a re-arrangement of an infinity of other actual and virtual relations.” [7] Is such a pure difference not what takes place in the repetition of the same actual melodic line in Robert Schumann’s “Humoresque”? This piece is to be read against the background of the gradual loss of the voice in Schumann’s songs: it is not a simple piano piece, but a song without the vocal line, with the vocal line reduced to silence, so that all we effectively hear is the piano accompaniment. This is how one should read the famous “inner voice /innere Stimme/” added by Schumann (in the written score) as a third line between the two piano lines, higher and lower: as the vocal melodic line which remains a non-vocalized “inner voice” (which exists only as Augenmusik, music for the eyes only, in the guise of written notes). This absent melody is to be reconstructed on the basis of the fact that the first and third levels (the right and the left hand piano lines) do not relate to each other directly, i.e. their relationship is not that of an immediate mirroring: in order to account for their interconnection, one is thus compelled to (re)construct a third, “virtual” intermediate level (melodic line) which, for structural reasons, cannot be played. Schumann brings this procedure of absent melody to an apparently absurd self-reference when, later in the same fragment of Humoresque, he repeats the same two effectively played melodic lines, yet this time the score contains no third absent melodic line, no inner voice – what is absent here is the absent melody, i.e. absence itself. How are we to play these notes when, at the level of what is effectively to be played, they exactly repeat the previous notes? The effectively played notes are deprived only of what is not there, of their constitutive lack, or, to refer to the Bible, they lose even that what they never had. The true pianist should thus have the savoir-faire to play the existing, positive, notes in such a way that one would be cable to discern the echo of the accompanying non-played “silent” virtual notes or their absence… This, then, is pure difference: the nothing-actual, the virtual background, which accounts for the difference of the two melodic lines.

This logic of virtual difference can also be discerned in another paradox, namely the above mentioned cinema version of Billy Bathgate is basically a failure, but an interesting one: a failure which nonetheless evokes in the viewer the specter of the much better novel. However, when one then goes to read the novel on which the film is based, one is disappointed – this is NOT the novel the film evoked as the standard with regard to which it failed. The repetition (of a failed novel in the failed film) thus gives rise to a third, purely virtual, element, the better novel. This is an exemplary case of what Deleuze deploys in the crucial pages of his Difference and Repetition:

While it may seem that the two presents are successive, at a variable distance apart in the series of reals, in fact they form, rather, two real series which coexist in relation to a virtual object of another kind, one which constantly circulates and is displaced in them /…/. Repetition is constituted not from one present to another, but between the two coexistent series that these presents form in function of the virtual object (object = x).(DR-104-105)

With regard to Billy Bathgate the film does not “repeat” the novel on which it is based; rather, they both “repeat” the unrepeatable virtual x, the “true” novel whose specter is engendered in the passage from the actual novel to the film. This virtual point of reference, although “unreal,” is in a way more real than reality: it is the ABSOLUTE point of reference of the failed real attempts. This is how, in the perspective of the materialist theology, the divine emerges from the repetition of terrestrial material elements, as their “cause” retroactively posited by them. Deleuze is right to refer to Lacan here: this “better book” is what Lacan calls objet petit a, the object-cause of desire that “one cannot recapture in the present, except by capturing it in its consequences,” the two really-existing books.

The underlying movement is here more complex than it may appear. It is not that we should simply conceive the starting point (the novel) as an “open work,” full of possibilities which can be deployed later, actualized in later versions; or – even worse – that we should conceive the original work as a pre-text which can later be incorporated in other con-texts and given a meaning totally different from the original one. What is missing here is the retroactive, backwards, movement that was first described by Henri Bergson, a key reference for Deleuze. In his “Two Sources of Morality and Religion”, Bergson describes the strange sensations he experienced on August 4 1914, when war was declared between France and Germany: “In spite of my turmoil, and although a war, even a victorious one, appeared to me as a catastrophy, I experienced what /William/ James spoke about, a feeling of admiration for the facility of the passage from the abstract to the concret: who would have thought that such a formidable event can emerge in reality with so little fuss?” [8] Crucial is here the modality of the break between before and after: before its outburst, the war appeared to Bergson “simultaneously probable and impossible: a complex and contradictory notion which persisted to the end” [9]; after its outburst, it all of a sudden become real AND possible, and the paradox resides in this retroactive appearance of probability:

I never pretended that one can insert reality into the past and thus work backwards in time. However, one can without any doubt insert there the possible, or, rather, at every moment, the possible insert itself there. Insofar as inpredictable and new reality creates itself, its image reflects itself behind itself in the indefinite past: this new reality finds itself all the time having been possible; but it is only at the precise moment of its actual emergence that it begins to always have been, and this is why I say that its possibility, which does not precede its reality, will have preceded it once this reality emerges. [10]

THIS is what takes place in the example of Billy Bathgate: the film inserts back into the novel the possibility of a different, much better, novel. And do we not encounter a similar logic in the relationship between Stalinism and Leninism? Here also, THREE moments are in play: Lenin’s politics before the Stalinist takeover; Stalinist politics; the specter of “Leninism” retroactively generated by Stalinism (in its official Stalinist version, but ALSO in the version critical of Stalinism, like when, in the process of “de-Stalinization” in the USSR, the motto evoked was that of the “return to the original Leninist principles”). One should therefore stop the ridiculous game of opposing the Stalinist terror to the “authentic” Leninist legacy betrayed by the Stalinism: “Leninism” is a thoroughly Stalinist notion. The gesture of projecting the emancipatory-utopian potential of Stalinism backwards, into a preceding time, signals the incapacity of the thought to endure the “absolute contradiction,” the unbearable tension, inherent to the Stalinist project itself. [11] It is therefore crucial to distinguish “Leninism” (as the authentic core of Stalinism) from the actual political practice and ideology of Lenin’s period: the actual greatness of Lenin is NOT the same as the Stalinist authentic myth of Leninism.

And the irony is that this logic of repetition, elaborated by Deleuze, THE anti-Hegelian, is at the very core of the Hegelian dialectics: it relies on the properly dialectical relationship between temporal reality and the eternal Absolute. The eternal Absolute is the immobile point of reference around which temporal figurations circulate, their presupposition; however, precisely as such, it is posited by these temporal figurations, since it does not pre-exist them: it emerges in the gap between the first and the second one – in the case of Billy Bathgate, between the novel and its repetition in the film. Or, back to Schumann’s Humoresque, the eternal absolute is the third unplayed melodic line, the point of reference of the two lines played in reality: it is absolute, but a fragile one – if the two positive lines are played wrongly, it disappears… This is what one is tempted to call “materialist theology”: temporal succession creates eternity.

The Deleuzian notion of sign can only be properly grasped against the background of his redefinition of what is a problem. Commonsense tells us that there are true and false solutions to every problems; for Deleuze, on the contrary, there are no definitive solutions to problems, solutions are just repeated attempts to deal with the problem, with its impossible-real. Problems themselves, not solutions, are true or false. Each solution not only reacts to “its” problem, but retroactively redefines it, formulating it from within its own specific horizon. Which is why problems are universal and solutions/answers are particular.

Deleuze is here unexpectedly closer to Hegel: for Hegel, say, the Idea of State is a problem, and each specific form of the state (Ancient republic, feudal monarchy, modern democracy…) proposes a solution to this problem, redefining the problem itself. And, precisely, the passage to the next “higher” stage of the dialectical process occurs when, instead of continuing to search for a solution, we problematize the problem itself, abandoning its terms – say, when, instead of continuing to search for a “true” State, we drop the very reference to State and look for a communal existence beyond State.

Problem is thus not only “subjective,” not just epistemological, a problem for the subject who tries to solve it; it is stricto sensuontological, inscribed into the thing itself: the structure of reality is “problematic.” That is to say, actual reality can only be grasped as a series of answers to a virtual problems – say, in Deleuze’s reading of biology, the development of eyes can only be grasped as attempted solution at the problem of how to deal with light. And this brings us to sign – actual reality appears as “sign” when it is perceived as an answer to virtual problem:

Neither the problem nor the question is a subjective determination marking a moment of insufficiency in knowledge. Problematic structure is part of objects themselves, allowing them to be grasped as signs (DR-63-4)

This explains the strange way Deleuze opposes signs and representations: for the common sense, a mental representation directly reproduces the way a thing is, while a sign just points towards it, designating it with a (more or less) arbitrary signifier. (In a representation of a table, I “see directly” a table, while its sign just points towards the table.) For Deleuze, on the contrary, representations are mediate, while signs are direct, and the task of a creative thought is that of “making movement itself a work, without interpositions; of substituting direct signs for mediate representations” (DR-16).

Representations are figures of objects as objective entities deprived of their virtual support/background, and we pass from representation to sign when we are able to discern in an object that which points towards its virtual ground, towards the problem with regard to which it is an answer. To put it succinctly, every answer is a sign of its problem. Does Deleuze’s argument against the (Hegelian) negative not hold only if we reduce the negative to the negation of a pre-existing positive identity? What about a negativity which is in itself positive, giving, “generative”?

For a Deleuzian Christology. How are we to grasp the (often noted) weird impassivity of the figure of Christ, its “sterility”? What if Christ is an Event in the Deleuzian sense – an occurrence of pure individuality without proper causal power? Which is why Christ suffers, but in a thoroughly impassive way. Christ is “individual” in the Deleuzian sense: he is a pure individual, not characterized by positive properties which would make him “more” than an ordinary human, i.e., the difference between Christ and other humans is purely virtual – back to Schumann, Christ is, at the level of actuality, the same as other humans, only the unwritten “virtual melody” that accompanies him is added. And in the Holy Spirit, we get this “virtual melody” in its own: the Holy Spirit is a collective field of pure virtuality, with no causal power of its own. Christ’s death and resurrection is the death of the actual person which confronts us directly with the (“resurrected”) virtual field that sustained it. The Christian name for this virtual force is “love”: when Christ says to his worried followers after his death “when there will be love between two of you, I will be there,” he thereby asserts his virtual status.

Deleuzian repetition “is not an objective fact but an act – a form of behavior towards that which cannot be repeated” (JW-33). This is why there is asymmetry between the two levels – actuality of facts and virtuality of pure differences – is radical: not only does the repetition of pure differences underlie all actual identities (as we have seen in the case of Schumann), i.e., not only do we encounter pure virtual difference at its purest in actual identity; it is also that “the repetition of actual identities is disguised in any determinate idea of pure differences” (JW-28): there is no “pure” difference outside actuality, the virtual sphere of differences only persists-insists as a shadow accompanying actual identities and their interactions. Again, as in the case of Billy Bathgate the virtual specter (“Idea”) of the true novel arises only through actual repetition of the actual novel in the film.

The starting point of Deleuze’s “transcendental empiricism” is that there is always a hidden virtual aspect to any given determined/actual object or process: actual things are not ontologically “complete”; in order to get a complete view of them, we must add to it its virtual supplement. This move from an actual given thing to its virtual conditions is the transcendental move, the deployment of the transcendental conditions of the given. However, this does not mean that the virtual somehow produces, causes, or generates, the actual: when Deleuze talks about genesis (of the actual out of the virtual), he does not mean temporal-evolutionary genesis, the process of spatio-temporal becoming of a thing, but a “genesis without dynamism, evolving necessarily in the element of a supra-historicity, a static genesis” (DR-183). This static character of the virtual field finds its most radical expression in Deleuze’s notion of a pure past: not the past into which things present pass, but an absolute past “where all events, including those that have sunk without trace, are stored and remembered as their passing away” (JW-94), a virtual past which already contains also things which are still present (a present can become past because in a way it is already, it can perceive itself as part of the past (“what we are doing now is (will have been) history”): “It is with respect to the pure element of the past, understood as the past in general, as an a priori past, that a given former present is reproducible and the present present is able to reflect itself.” (DR-81) Does this mean that this pure past involves a thoroughly deterministic notion of the universe in which everything to happen (to come), all actual spatio-temporal deployment, is already part of an immemorial/atemporal virtual network? No, and for a very precise reason: because “the pure past must be all the past but must also be amenable to change through the occurrence of any new present” (JW-96). It was none other than T.S. Eliot, this great conservative, who first clearly formulated this link between our dependence on tradition and our power to change the past: tradition cannot be inherited, and, if you want it, you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science. [12]

When Eliot writes that, when judging a living poet, “you must set him among the dead,” he formulates precisely an example of Deleuze’s pure past. And when he writes that “the existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted,” he no less clearly formulates the paradoxical link between the completeness of the past and our capacity to change it retroactively: precisely because the pure past is complete, each new work re-arranges its entire balance. Recall Borges’ precise formulation of the relationship between Kafka and the multitude of his precursors, from old Chinese authors to Robert Browning: “Kafka’s idiosyncrasy, in greater or lesser degree, is present in each of these writings, but if Kafka had not written we would not perceive it; that is to say, it would not exist. /…/ each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.” [13] The properly dialectical solution of the dilemma of “Is it really there, in the source, or did we only read it into the source?” is thus: it is there, but we can only perceive and state this retroactively, from today’s perspective.

Here, Peter Hallward falls short in his otherwise excellent Out of This World, where he stresses only the aspect of the pure past as the virtual field in which the fate of all actual events is sealed in advance, since “everything is already written” in it. At this point where we view reality sub specie aeternitatis, absolute freedom coincides with absolute necessity and its pure automatism: to be free means to let oneself freely flow in/with the substantial necessity. This topic reverberates even in today’s cognitivist debates on the problem of free will. Compatibilists like Daniel Dennett have an elegant solution to the incompatibilists’ complaints about determinism (see Dennett’s Freedom Evolves): when incompatibilists complain that our freedom cannot be combined with the fact that all our acts are part of the great chain of natural determinism, they secretly make an unwarranted ontological assumption: first, they assume that we (the Self, the free agent) somehow stand OUTSIDE reality, and then go to complain how they feel oppressed by the notion that reality with its determinism controls them totally. This is what is wrong with the notion of us being “imprisoned” by the chains of the natural determinism: we thereby obfuscate the fact that we are PART OF reality, that the (possible, local) conflict between our “free” striving and external reality resisting to it is a conflict inherent to reality itself. That is to say, there is nothing “oppressive” or “constraining” about the fact that our innermost strivings are (pre)determined: when we feel thwarted in our freedom by the constraining pressure of external reality, there must be something in us, some desires, strivings, which are thus thwarted, and where should these strivings come if not from this same reality? Our “free will” does not in some mysterious way “disturb the natural course of things,” it is part and parcel of this course. For us to be “truly” and “radically” free, this would entail that there would be no positive content we would want to impose as our free act – if we want nothing “external” and particular/given to determine our behavior, then “this would involve being free of every part of ourselves”(Fearn 24). When a determinist claims that our free choice is “determined,” this does not mean that our free will is somehow constrained, that we are forced to act AGAINST our free will – what is “determined” is the very thing that we want to do “freely,” i.e., without being thwarted by external obstacles. – So, back to Hallward: while he is right to emphasize that, for Deleuze, freedom “isn’t a matter of human liberty but of liberation from humanity” (139), of fully submerging oneself into the creative flux of the absolute Life, his political conclusion from this seems too fast:

The immediate political implication of such a position /…/ is clear enough: since a free mode or monad is simply one that has eliminated its resistance to the sovereign will that works through it, so then it follows that the more absolute the sovereign’s power, the more ‘free’ are those subject to it. (139)

But does Hallward not ignore the retroactive movement on which Deleuze also insists, i.e., how this eternal pure past which fully determines us is itself subjected to retroactive change? We are thus simultaneously less free and more free than we think: we are thoroughly passive, determined by and dependent on the past, but we have the freedom to define the scope of this determination, i.e., to (over)determine the past which will determine us. Deleuze is here unexpectedly close to Kant, for whom I am determined by causes, but I (can) retroactively determine which causes will determine me: we, subjects, are passively affected by pathological objects and motivations; but, in a reflexive way, we ourselves have the minimal power to accept (or reject) being affected in this way, i.e., we retroactively determine the causes allowed to determine us, or, at least, the MODE of this linear determination. “Freedom” is thus inherently retroactive: at its most elementary, it is not simply a free act which, out of nowhere, starts a new causal link, but a retroactive act of endorsing which link/sequence of necessities will determine me. Here, one should add a Hegelian twist to Spinoza: freedom is not simply “recognized/known necessity”, but recognized/assumed necessity, the necessity constituted/actualized through this recognition. So when Deleuze refers to Proust’s description of Vinteuil’s music that haunts Swann – “as if the performers not so much played the little phrase as executed the rites necessary for it to appear” -, he is evoking the necessary illusion: generating the sense-event is experienced as ritualistic evocation of a pree-existing event, as if the event was already there, waiting for our call in its virtual presence.

What directly resonates in this topic is, of course, the Protestant motif of predestination: far from being a reactionary theological motif, predestination is a key element of the materialist theory of sense, on condition that we read it along the lines of the Deleuzian opposition between the virtual and the actual. That is to say, predestination does not mean that our fate is sealed in an actual text existng from eternity in the divine mind; the texture which predestines us belonmgs to the purely virtual eternal past which, as such, can be retroactively rewritten by our act. This, perhaps, would have been the ultimate meaning of the singularity Christ’s incarnation: it is an ACT which radically changes our destiny. Prior to Christ, we were determined by Fate, caught in the cycle of sin and its payment, while Christ’s erasing of our past sins means precisely that his sacrifice changes our virtual past andf thus sets us free. When Deleuze writes that Èmy wound existed before me; I was born to embody it,Ç does this variation on the theme of the Cheshire cat and its smile from Alice in Wonderland(the cat was born to embody its smile) not provide a perfect formula of Christ’s sacrifice: Christ was born to embody his wound, to be crucified? The problem is the literal teleological reading of this proposition: as if the actual deeds of a person merely actualize its atemporal-eternal fate inscribed in its virtual idea:

Caesar’s only real task is to become worthy of the events he has been created to embody. Amor fati. What Caesar actually does adds nothing to what he virtually is. When Caesar actually crosses the Rubicon this involves no deliberation or choice since it is simply part of the entire, immediate expression of Caesarness, it simply unrolls or ‘unfolds something that was encompassed for all times in the notion of Caesar. (Hallward 54)

However, what about the retroactivity of a gesture which (re)constitutes this past itself? This, perhaps, is the most succinct definition of what an authentic ACT is: in our ordinary activity, we effectively justy follow the (virtual-fantasmatic) coordinates of our identity, while an act proper is the paradox of an actual move which (retroactively) changes the very virtual ÈtranscendentalÇ coordinates of its agent’s being – or, in Freudian terms, which does not only change the actuality of our world, but also “moves its underground”. We have thus a kind of reflexive “folding back of the condition onto the given it was the condition for” (JW-109): while the pure past is the transcendental condition for our acts, our acts do not only create new actual reality, they also retroactively change this very condition. This brings us to the central problem of Deleuze’s ontology: how are the virtual and the actual related? “Actual things express Ideas but are not caused by them.”(JW-200) The notion of causality is limited to the interaction of actual things and processes; on the other hand, this interaction also causes virtual entities (sense, Ideas): Deleuze is not an idealist, Sense is for him always an ineffective sterile shadow accompanying actual things. What this means is that, for Deleuze, (transcendental) genesis and causality are totally opposed: they move at different levels:

Actual things have an identity, but virtual ones do not, they are pure variations. An actual thing must change – become something different – in order to express something. Whereas, the expressed virtual thing does not change – only its relation to other virtual things, other intensities and Ideas changes. (JW-200)

How does this relation change? Only through the changes in actual things which express Ideas, since the entire generative power lies in actual things: Ideas belong to the domain of Sense which is “only a vapor which plays at the limit of things and words”; as such, Sense is “the Ineffectual, a sterile incorporeal deprived of its generative powers” (DR-156). Think about a group of dedicated individuals fighting for the Idea of Communism: in order to grasp their activity, we have to take into account the virtual Idea. But this Idea is in itself sterile, has no proper causality: all causality lies in the individuals who “express” it.

The gist of Deleuze’s critique of Aristotle, of his notion of specific difference, is that it privileged difference to identity: specific difference always presupposes the identity of a genre in which opposed species co-exist. However, what about the “Hegelian complication” here? What about a specific difference which defines the genre itself, a difference of species which coincides with the difference between genus and species, thus reducing the genus itself to one of its species?

Bodies without organs, organs without bodies: as Deleuze emphasizes, what he is fighting against are not organs but ORGANISM, the articulation of a body into a hierarchic-harmonious Whole of organs, each “at its place,” with its function: “the BwO is in no way the contrary of the organs. Its enemies are not organs. The enemy is the organism.” [14] He is fighting corporatism/organicism. For him, Spinoza’s substance is the ultimate BwO: the non-hierarchic space in which a chaotic multitude (of organs?), all equal (univocity of being), float… Nonetheless, there is a strategic choice made here: why BwO, why not (also) OwB? Why not Body as the space in which autonomous organs freely float? Is it because “organs” evoke a function within a wider Whole, subordination to a goal? But does this very fact not make their autonomization, OwB, all the more subversive?


[1] Jacques-Alain Miller, “Detached Pieces,” lacanian ink 28, Fall 2007, p. 37.

[2] Deleuze, Negotiations 1972-1990, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1997, p. 6.

[3] Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1988.

[4] Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, Cambridge: Semiotext(e), 2004, p. 185-6.

[5] Peter Hallward, Out of This World, London: Verso, 2006, p. 142.

[6] Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XXIII: Le sinthome, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2005.

[7] James Williams, Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: a Critical Introduction and Guide, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2003, p. 27.

[8] Henri Bergson, Oeuvres, Paris: PUF, 1991, p. 1110-1111.

[9] Bergson, ibid.

[10] Bergson, ibid.

[11] One of the few historians ready to confront this excruciating tension is Sheila Fitzpatrick, who pointed out that the year 1928 was a shattering turning point, a true second revolution, not any kind of “Thermidor,” but rather the consequent radicalization of the October Revolution. See Stalinism. New Directions, ed. by Sheila Fitzpatrick, London: Routledge, 2001.

[12] T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” originally published in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, (1922).

[13] Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions: 1937-52, New York: Washington Square Press, 1966, p. 113.

[14] Gilles Deleuze – Felix Guattari, Mille plateaux, Paris: Les editions de Minuit, 1980, p. 196.



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