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Immanence, Difference, and Individuation

The preeminent principle of Deleuze’s philosophy of immanence is that of univocity: “expressive immanence cannot be sustained unless it is accompanied by a thoroughgoing conception of univocity, a thoroughgoing affirmation of univocal Being” (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 178). Similar to Spinoza’s single substance philosophy, Deleuze banishes all hierarchy from ontology. The result of the latter is a stripped-naked philosophy of immanence; one that seeks not to arrive at immanence through its relation with something other than itself, but rather one that thinks from immanence as the first and absolute principle of its own auto-poetic immanence to itself. In his words:

Absolute immanence is in itself: it is not in something, not to something; it does not depend on an object and does not belong to a subject. In Spinoza immanence is not immanence to substance, but substance and modes are in immanence… Immanence does not relate to a Something that is a unity superior to everything, nor to a Subject that is an act operating the synthesis of things: it is when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can talk of a plane of immanence (Deleuze, “Immanence: A Life…,” 4).

According to Deleuze, thinking within a “plane of immanence” is necessary in order to prevent thought from falling into the trap of what he called “the illusion of transcendence.” This illusion of transcendence is, according to Deleuze, the dominant image of thought that suppresses the expression of Life, of desire, of production. Transcendence is merely a product of consciousness contained within immanence (“Immanence: A Life…,” 5). Therefore, he speaks of immanence as being “in itself” in so far as there is no other substance or mode of “being” to which immanence relates. Immanence is absolute.

The paradigm of philosophy that Deleuze confronts by asserting immanence as being in itself is what he sees as that dominant habit-stricken school of thought that only knows of immanence as being immanent to something, in relation to another substance. The latter is wedded to the illusion of transcendence, which as Todd May recognizes runs into a problem of explaining relationality between two substances (May, Gilles Deleuze, 31). And even when such a quandary is addressed, the only solution one can proffer is one that necessarily privileges one substance over the other. However, for Deleuze, no such problem persists. By peeling the tiles off the illusory house of transcendence what Deleuze exposes is a self-relationally expressive immanent ontology of difference that bears historical resonance to the Spinozist doctrine of parallelism (i.e. there is no primacy between mind and matter).

As an immanent ontology of difference, by inverting the Leibnizian common sense notion that identities preexist difference, Deleuze asserts that identities are not in fact ontologically prior – difference is. As he sees it, “The negative understanding of difference — difference as a system imposed on some undifferentiated real — is an illusion… [that] comes from elevating some image of God, man, or the subject as the author and origin of all difference (Colebrook, Understanding Deleuze, 30).”

Greatly influenced by Gilbert Simondon’s theory of individuation, Deleuze claims that individual entities are not prior, but rather are produced through the process of individuation. Simondon states that the primal ontological condition is “pre-individual.” This pre-individual state comprises singularities, which themselves are defined not by individuality but by difference, disparity. It is only through a process of disparation, as singularities overlap and interact, that individualities emerge. As he noted while reviewing Simondon’s L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique, “individuation truly appears as the advent of a new moment of Being, the moment of phased being, being coupled to itself: [quoting Simondon] ‘It is individuation that creates the phases, for the phases are only the development of being on either side of itself … Pre-individual being is phase-less being, whereas being after individuation is phased being (Deleuze, Review of L’individu…).’” This “advent of a new moment of Being” served for Deleuze as an armory, equipping him as he adopted and then radicalized Simondon’s theory of individuation. The result of this adoption/adaptation was a philosophy of immanence: a life…

For Deleuze, “a life” is pure immanence. It is immanence that is in itself; a pre-individual field of forces — “intensities” — that exist in impersonal free-play. They are not telic. Nor are they purely chaotic. Rather, “a life” is metastable — chaos within order; unceasing flows of intensities in a plane of immanence. As intensities shift in their relations with one another, the process of individuation is effected. This latter occurrence is the actualization of the virtual. As Deleuze notes, “A life contains only virtuals. It is made of virtualities, events, singularities. What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality, but something that enters into a process of actualization by following the plane that gives it its own reality (“Immanence: A Life…,” 5).” This process whereby the virtual actualizes itself is the primal ontological mode. In other words, for Deleuze, becoming is the a priori ontological category; being is merely an effect (and as we will see, it is a counter-effect).

Creation contra the Dogmatic Image of Thought

Critically, Deleuze’s motivation is to expunge all transcendent residue from ontology. Wherever transcendence is detected, Deleuze sees it of primary import to release the flows of intensity trapped beneath the surface, to scramble the identities of transcendent discourse. However, Deleuze’s project must not be seen as merely negative. In fact, Deleuze may just be the positive philosopher par excellence. Particularly, in his works with Felix Guattari, in what seems an endless creation of concepts, Deleuze-Guattari set out to disrupt the illusion of transcendence through production.

With Life consisting of a constant mash of pre-individual flows, and with the illusion of transcendence haunting conscious existence, Deleuze and Deleuze-Guattari reorientate the very purpose of philosophy by destroying the power of representation through a reimaginination of thought. In one of his earliest works, Deleuze writes: “Representation fails to capture the affirmed world of difference. Representation has only a single centre, a unique and receding perspective, and in consequence a false depth. It mediates everything, but mobilises and moves nothing (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 55).” Post-Cartesian thought has been generally characterized as representational. According to Deleuze, it has been faulted by the presupposition that “everybody knows”:

Everybody knows, in a pre-philosophical and pre-conceptual manner … everybody knows what it means to think and to be. … As a result, when the philosopher says ‘I think therefore I am’, he can assume that the universality of his premisses – namely, what it means to be and to think … – will be implicitly understood, and that no one can deny that to doubt is to think, and to think is to be …. Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative (Difference and Repetition, 129-130).

In order for the representational image of thought to be proper, there must be an objective world, composed of individual entities that human consciousness subsequently re-presents to oneself through the power of memory. However, this “objective world” can only be understood as distinct, prior, and therefore transcendent to the consciousness that perceives it. The latter, one might say, was Sartre’s great error. For by establishing a humanist theory of conscious existence, Sartre was unable to free himself from the illusion of transcendence. Deleuze and Deleuze-Guattari by contrast are freed from the illusion of transcendence; most significantly, by peeling back the presuppositions regarding the a priori existence of being-in-itself and allowing the flows of pre-individual desire to scatter the static image of thought.

The notion of desire is one of the many concepts that Deleuze-Guattari utilize to describe the pre-individual flows of energy that disrupt and constitute everyday life. Desire is not understood as lack. Rather, it is pure production. Desire is the connection of flows that continually orders and reorders upon the Body without Organs (BwO). It’s important to note here: this desiring-production must not be understood as emanating from a singular point or foundation. Rather, it disperses rhizomatically. The rhizome is rootless, groundless, and de-centered. Characterized by heterogeneous connections, multiplicities, lines of flight and deterritorializations, the rhizome is a model of “chaosmic” creation as well as revolution. It is this two-fold characteristic of creation and revolution that might best define Deleuze’s and Deleuze-Guattari’s philosophy. However, reconciling how the two work together is no easy feat; for the very nature of revolution seems to imply the destruction of creation, and the latter implies impediment of the former.

Creation and revolution are ways of understanding the very becoming of the flows of desire. Although these flows are rhizomatic, they are productive, not merely destructive. As flows interact in a constant swirling liquidity of flux, one machine combines with another, and aggregates with aggregates. The connection produces a new machine, while simultaneously preserving the relative autonomy of the comprising machines. When the (at the very least) two connect, each prevents the other from pure autonomous flow. However, the latter occurs in a process of mutual creation toward a new dyadic aggregate. When this connection is broken, the machines break off and form new connections with other machines in an endless fluid flow. From a birds-eye view this constant flow of connectivity would resemble the fracticality of microorganisms under a microscope as they reproduce by the thousands almost instantaneously. With no center and no limit, the desiring-machines disrupt previous connections and create new ones with no goal in mind. There is no direction. It is a completely atelic flow.

However, in the process of connectivity, social machines, molar aggregates, are produced. These molar aggregates are not ontologically different from the machines of desiring-production. The latter are those without signification, without telos, without “Being.” They are the pure flow of unconscious desire. Desiring-machines are the creational-revolutionary lines that comprise “a life.” On the other hand, molar machines are the very same machines as the desiring-machines; however, the former are restricted by signification and functionality in a “socius.” The socius is the field of anti-production. It is the field of representation, of transcendence. In the socius, the otherwise productive flow of desiring-machines is restricted through the illusion of transcendence. This stifling of productive desire within molarity is described well by Brian Massumi: “A molarized individual is a ‘person’ to the extent that a category (cultural image of unity) has been imposed on it, and insofar as its subsequent actions are made to conform to those prescribed by its assigned category (Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 55).” The molecular elements that comprise the molarity are still preserved and present. They are still performing. However, molarization, as the imposition of an image of unity, compresses the flow of desiring-production within the molarity as the latter seeks to impose its power over the flows of difference. When this process occurs, Deleuze and Guattari call it “fascism.”

Despotism, Capitalism, and Schizophrenia

Fascism is that social order that arises from a despotic system of over-coding. As Deleuze and Guattari note in Anti-Oedipus, a molar machine’s main role is to code. And under the power of a despotic system of over-coding, “nothing must escape coding (Anti-Oedipus, 142).” This paranoiac obsession with over-coding is the despotic systems modus operandi. Because of the constant flow of desire that remains virtually present within the socius, wherever difference is recognized, it must be captured, coded, and made to work for the despot. The identity of a person is a pertinent example of a molarity that the despot cannot allow to roam freely under His (and I do mean His) sovereignty. Under the auspice of seeking to maintain and increase control over land and everything contained therein, the despot must assign the totality of that which is composed under His rule with codes in order to ensure His own puissance. If persons were able to prevent codification, the despot’s sovereignty would be challenged and “chaos” would ensue. Thus, there is a constant state of paranoia that issues from the despot, through the ranks, to cover the entire social field and ensure the latter’s uniformity within the system. So, what could the despot decree that would solidify his puissance and maintain the state of paranoia? Death! Death is the great arbiter of the despotic system. The one who controls the power of death, controls the power of (social) life. But death must not merely be understood as the threat of physical harm. While this is most clearly the particular mode of death that the despotic system inflicts, it is not the only or even most ubiquitous. In fact, codification itself, the very impetus that comprises the despotic system, must be understood as death-in-ubiquity. In other words, echoing Kojeve’s remarks concerning the killing power of language, codification is essentially death to desiring-production.

Therefore, if the onslaught of paranoia through death-by-coding is the modus operandi of the despotic system, then an escape from coding is the only hope for Life. Such a flight from coding is precisely what Deleuze and Guattari claim occurs under a different system: capitalism. The capitalist system is characterized by deterritorialization and decoding and reterritorialization and recoding. Whereas the despotic system resists the unconscious flows of desire by imposing endless codes upon the BwO in order to unify the plane of immanence under despotic rule, capitalism is a system of scrambling codes; it is a system of immanence. Despotism, while seeking through its paranoiac rampage of control and discipline to be omnipresent, is never able to be completely immanent; it is always trapped under a self-induced transcendent illusion — the illusion of the puissance of the despotic individual. Capitalism on the other hand expends an exorbitant amount of energy curtailing the illusion of transcendence through an endless process of decoding and recoding. As Eugene Holland recognizes, the despotic system is a system of power without economic free-flow, and capitalism is a system of power and economic free-flow (Holland, Introduction to Schizoanalysis, 60). This distinction is helpful for indicating in what ways capitalism is deemed to be useful and in what ways it is not yet immanent enough.

Capitalism is useful as the social system that is most akin to the radical immanence of Deleuze and Deleuze-Guattari. However, this immanence is faux. It is an immanence in perception only. In other words, it is immanent only when perceived through a molar hermeneutic. Once capitalism is scrutinized under the microscope of molecularity then it’s faux tendencies resound. This latter scrutiny is what Deleuze and Guattari call schizoanalysis. Schizoanalysis uses the model of the schizophrenic, not because they refuse to take the plight of schizophrenia seriously as an ailment when inhering in a person, but because they find in schizophrenia (understood in its most abstract sense as an unbound flow of desire) an impetus for scattering molarity and releasing the percolating flows of desire.

Of course then, schizoanalysis needs a target. And the target at which it is directed is the residual transcendence of the capitalist system. As mentioned in the above paragraph, capitalism is a faux immanence. This is because capitalism’s endless process of decoding and recoding is guided by an axiomatic — the axiomatic to decode and recode. Under the despotic social system, over-coding provides meaning. This meaning is subsequently turned into systems of belief. Under the control of the despot, meaning and belief are themselves codified and given meaning through the self-legitimization of the despot. By contrast, in capitalism, meaning and belief are scattered by endless decoding, only to be momentarily reinserted through recoding, before being swept away again by the irrepressible persistence of decoding. Economics and the market replace the sovereign and overcome despotic self-legitimization. However, through the implementation of the process of decoding, capitalism presupposes a self-legitimizing axiomatic of de-codification. Therefore, capitalism can only be seen as a relative break from the coding and over-coding of social production. Deleuze and Guattari write: “[Capitalism] effects relative breaks, because it substitutes for the codes an extremely rigorous axiomatic that maintains the energy of the flows in a bound state on the body of capital as a socius that is deterritorialized, but also a socius that is even more pitiless than any other (A-O, 246).” The continuing pitilessness of capitalism, as it fails to break free from all traces of fascistic-despotic-transcendence, is why Deleuze and Guattari assert that only schizophrenia “is… the absolute limit that causes flows to travel in a free state on a desocialized body without organs (A-O, 246).” In other words, what Deleuze and Guattari assert is that in order to overcome representation altogether, in order to crumble the fascism of transcendence, we must think without limit — we must think rhizomatically.