Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Critique by Necessity: More Random Reflections on Marx and Deleuze

Jared from Sportive Thoughts has been organising a Deleuze Carnival. The first carnival is up – and Jared is also asking for feedback on some ideas for future carnivals.

I’ve been wanting to do a bit more writing on Deleuze – over my short holiday this past week I’ve been attending an excellent lecture series on Difference and Repetition and trundling through the book. Unfortunately, I’ve also come down with (yet another!) annoying illness, and have felt a bit too fuzzy to write.

While I’m thinking about the issue, I did want to toss up a couple of quick quotations to passages to capture some of what has been resonating with me in the work. I’ve been particularly engaged by Deleuze’s interest in how certain structures that clearly do have determinate characteristics, come routinely to be described as mere negatives – creating the problem of how to understand (this question should seem familiar to regular readers here) how something positive should come to be mistaken for a pure negation. Deleuze asks how should we understand the status of negation, given that he rejects the centrality often accorded to negation by other approaches:

One final consequence remains, concerning the status of negation. There is a non-being, yet there is neither negative nor negation. There is a non-being which is by no means the being of the negative, but rather the being of the problematic. (p. 202)

Deleuze’s argument here does not take the form of a simple denial – he doesn’t engage in what, in other contexts, I often call an “abstract negation” (asking forbearance for the confusion that can arise when juxtaposing what Deleuze means by “negation” and the way I use this term). Instead, Deleuze engages in what I generally call a self-reflexive form of argument: he regards it as incumbent on his theoretical approach, not simply to reject a particular conception of negation, but to explain why the conception he rejects would be a plausible position – why someone might come to hold this position, why this position is readily available, even though Deleuze will also argue that the position is inadequate. He does this by arguing that negation is a necessary appearance of the problem it both expresses and conceals:

The negative is an illusion, no more than a shadow of problems. We have seen how problems were necessarily hidden by possible propositions corresponding to cases of solution: instead of being grasped as problems, they can then appear as no more than hypotheses or a series of hypotheses. As a proposition of consciousness, each of these is flanked by a double negative: whether the One is, whether the One is not… whether it is fine, whether it is not fine… The negative is an illusion because the form of negation appears with propositions which express the problem on which they depend only by distorting it and obscuring its real structure. Once the problem is translated into hypotheses, each hypothetical affirmation is doubled by a negation, which amounts to the state of a problem betrayed by its shadow. (p. 202)

As in the reflections I posted on Deleuze’s comments on empiricism, I’m struck by the structural or formal similarity between the movement of this argument, and the movement of Marx’s analysis in Capital, which also takes the form of demonstrating how the necessary forms of appearance of a determinate structure operate to conceal the existence of the structure whose existence, however, those forms of appearance also express (cf. Postone on the structure of Marx’s argument). This similarity derives in part from the way in which both authors recognise that, once critique becomes immanent, and thus renounces access to a privileged realm of objective truth, the criticism of competing positions assumes a new form: it becomes incumbent on the critic, not simply to reject competing positions as untrue (for how could this be done, without implying a move into some realm of objectivity?), but to demonstrate the plausibility of those positions, while also criticising them as partial. It becomes necessary, in other words, for critique to become self-reflexive.

Hegel will make a first pass at developing a form for self-reflexive and immanent critique, using the organic and developmental metaphor that shapes of consciousness are successively more adequate attempts to realise the same notion – a position that both Deleuze and Marx, for their own reasons, will reject. Interestingly, in rejecting Hegel’s approach, both Marx and Deleuze then move to a similar notion that consciousness can find itself beguiled by forms of appearance that are necessary modes of expression for structures that manifest only in such forms of appearance, but that are nevertheless also concealed by the forms of appearance in which they become manifest. Deleuze argues that this self-reflexive move – which enables the appearance of negation to be grasped – is essential to a radical critique of negation:

The negative is indeed, therefore, the turning shadow of the problematic upon the set of propositions that it subsumes as cases. As a general rule, the critique of the negative remains ineffective so long as it assumes as given the form of affirmation ready made in the proposition. The critique of the negative is radical and well-grounded only when it carries out a genesis of affirmation and, simultaneously, the genesis of the appearance of negation. (p. 206)

This “radical and well-grounded” critique is what enables Deleuze to exclude negation from the Idea, by identifying the determinate conditions in which the negative will appear:

Consequently – and this is all we wish to say – the negative appears neither in the process of differentiation nor in the process of differenciation. The Idea knows nothing of negation. The first process is identical with the description of a pure positivity, in the form of a problem to which are assigned relations and points, places and functions, positions and differential thresholds which exclude all negative determination and find their sources in the genetic of productive elements of affirmation. The other process is identical with the production of finite engendered affirmations which bear upon the actual terms which occupy these places and positions, and upon the real relations which incarnate these relations and these functions. Forms of the negative do indeed appear in actual terms and real relations, but only insofar as these are cut off from the virtuality which they actualise, and from the moment of their actualisation. Then, and only then, do the finite affirmations appear limited in themselves, opposed to one another, and suffering from lack or privation. In short, the negative is always derived and represented, never original or present: the process of difference and of differenciation is primary in relation to that of the negative and opposition. (p. 207)

There are many other threads in this section I’d like to discuss – in particular, some of Deleuze’s examples of how determinate structures come to be perceived as negatives, which in some respects hug closely to things I’ve written on the blog from time to time, since my work hinges on a similar problem. This section of Difference and Repetition also offers some interesting explicit reflections on Marx, motivated by a different reading than I have used above, but pointing in interesting and suggestive ways to some of the practical implications Deleuze sees from his work. These sorts of issues should wait, though, until I’m a bit less fuzzy and can think them through in a more adequate way. This may well have been true of the comments I’ve already made above 🙂 – I’m just chafing at being ill, and wanting at least to get a bit of writing done before teaching starts up again next week… Hopefully I won’t have done too much damage to the text, in tossing up these very preliminary associations.

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2 responses to “Critique by Necessity: More Random Reflections on Marx and Deleuze

  1. Sinthome July 18, 2007 at 3:30 am

    Difference and Repetition, of course, is not a work of political philosophy but of ontology, though it is certainly ripe with implications for social and political thought. It seems to me that a number of discussions in political theory suffer from not attending enough to ontological questions. In the secondary literature on Deleuze there is a marked tendency to do exactly what you’re describing: abstractly negating other positions on the grounds that they are “representational”. This is a paradoxical move to say the least, in that Deleuze’s position of immanence and his anti-representational stance necessarily commits him to giving some sort of account as to how the world comes to be viewed in these terms. For this reason, it is not enough to simply give an account of the genesis of negation, but Deleuze is also obligated to give a genetic account of the postulates underlying the Image of Thought. A good deal of the work that I do in Difference and Givenness consists in unfolding precisely such a genetic account, and treating the Image of Thought not as a simple error (failed adequation between reality and description of reality), but as a sort of transcendental illusion produced not by reason (Kant), but within immanence itself. A good deal of this critique is developed in Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy, where Deleuze argues that Kantian critique does not go far enough in that 1) it fails to ground the values upon which it is based, and 2) it doesn’t reach a properly genetic perspective. The next question then becomes that of how it is possible to break through these positions. Deleuze develops this extensively throughout Difference and Repetition in his account of the encounter, that disrupts the smooth functioning of habitus that underlies what he refers to as “good and common sense”, or the spatio-temporal structures that underly the Image of Thought.

    The place to look for Deleuze’s political thought vis a vis Marx is Anti-Oedipus, where these ontological principles are unfolded in the social domain, and where “schizoanalysis” is developed as an activist form of theory that is designed not simply to describe the world or explain it, but to locate those sites of change and deterritorialization at odds with the reterritorializing forces of Oedipus (where Oedipus is loosely to be understood as the form of the State and identity).

  2. N Pepperell July 18, 2007 at 7:07 am

    Thanks for this – I wanted to read Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense before moving on to material that engages more directly with social theoretic issues – it’s all on the reading list… ;-P I’ve been blogging on the connections with Marx mainly because I wasn’t expecting so much of this, and so explicitly, in this particular work – although there are obviously plenty of passages, not simply on Marx, that point the ontological work explicitly to the potential for practical transformation.

    But yes, this post above was left half done (if even that) – it doesn’t discuss the issue of the positions not being criticised. I faded in the midst of writing it… and have been a bit tired to do a follow up around the issue of critical standpoint and how that concept (not how Deleuze would put it, but part of the point of these posts for me is to map across the different vocabularies that I use) is put into play in the work.

    Two hellish days of teaching coming up, so it will likely be a bit before I can return to any of this, unfortunately.

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