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June 21, 2005

The ethical character of Bergson's method of intuition

De Landa's A Thousand Years of Non-linear History left me with a sense that Deleuze and Guattari have the most effective and exciting practical approach to creating active and dynamical models of the world. But that book is one of examples underpinned with a few key concepts. It aims to show how far those concepts can be taken. I suspect that it intentionally leaves unsatisfied philosophical challeneges. A niche that Keith Ansell Pearson's Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze fills more than adequately. Here's my thoughts on reading the first chapter.

The 'ethical' character of this method of philosophy resides, therefore, in the cultivation of a 'sympathetic communication' that it seeks to establish between the human and the rest of living matter. Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, 1999, p.33

Keith's emphasis on the 'ethical' dimension of Bergson's method of intuition is very significant (and he notes, few others have made this link). The significance for me follows from the idea that the ethical dimension requires a consideration of something beyond any singular act or entity (as the sufficient reason of the act), but which does not assume any kind of totality or finality. I'm not usually interested in talk of Being (with a capital 'B'), although it is often more effective than counting sheep. But there is something in this angle on it that has made me take it much more seriously. And that something is in the negative ethical implications of thinking becoming without Being.

The argument seems to demonstrate how a concept of Being is an essential precursor to an encounter with duration, the key concept invented by Bergson. These encounters with duration connect us with the temporal problematics that (it is claimed) drives all activity and differentiation: real time or the asymmetrical synthesis of the sensible – that is, the sufficient reason behind the richness of the world.

Importantly, the encounter with duration is not singular and purely metaphysical, to be done in one philosophical-historic-eschatological event (it's not Hegel). Rather it is a pedagogical method that must be re-applied, with the aim of leading us away from conceptual confusions ('badly analyzed composites'), along lines that differentiate but at the same time follow virtual tendencies, to an understanding and acceptance of specific differences in kind – for example, to apprehend historical singularities (as De Landa does so brilliantly).

Even more importantly, we should recognize the active nature of this method. It takes us away from a passive relation between a subject and an object. It is an act of perception, intelligence and consciousness, but one that is always an active operation on and in the world. Keith provides a great sample on this from Bergson:

to percieve consists in condensing enourmous periods of an infinitely diluted existence into a few more differentiated moments of an intenser life, and in this summing up a very long history. To percieve means to immobilize Matter and Memory p.208 cited in _Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, 1999, p.34

The method of intuition is therefore both a means of leading us to a comprehension of differences in kind and at the same time through its immanence to the world in which it perceives, actively creates new differences in kind. It is a method that places thought absolutely in the world. We should always remember that the return of thought and philosophy [in]to the world is really what Deleuzianisms (or neo-Bergsonisms) are about

But this then raises the big question: why philosophy? – why this tendency towards conceptual activity and the apprehension of differences in kind? – wht this method of intuition? The answer to this varies slightly but importantly between Bergson and Deleuze (but the principle is the same). Philosophy is the perception of nature, or nature’s own perception (later Deleuze will see perception as a property existing beyond the human). Differentiation is never a simple or ontologically foundational act, but rather is already complex. How the world differs from itself is not reducible to a mechanism or dialectic. In each case the actual mode of its differentiation is that which is indeterminate in its differentiation (the radical difference). If it were otherwise, nature would never differ from itself. There could be no asymmetry, no drive to overcome and reconnect, no real time, no elan vital, no life. The indeterminacy introduced by this radical difference is essential:

The crucial element that Bergson wishes to grant to life is not a mysterious force but rather a principle of 'indetermination'. It is this indetermination, and with it the capacity for novel adaption, that he sees as being 'engrafted' onto the necessity of physical forces, so as making possible a 'creative', as opposed to a purely mechanistic or deterministic, evolution. ibid p.48

But at this point we risk losing any connecting principle between the differentiations. Does radical difference leave us with an absolute becoming? In what sense is there anything to differentiate from? The world has lost itself, cannot perceive itself, is inert and lifeless. In Bergson’s terms, the elan vital is gone. Saving us from this undifferentiated becoming, we have the ‘ethical’ turn. It is an ethics that seeks to posit some principle of reconnection beyond the differentiation. Some exchange and interlocking between the differences. Some expression that carries content across between the two differentiated worlds. A principle assumed in both sides (but not itself outside of the world) that acts as a virtuality in which the differentiation is played out: a Being that they assume.

The important point to realise is that it is on the virtual plane that unification is to be sought. The 'whole' is 'pure virtuality'. Moreover, differentiation is only an actualization to the extent that it preseupposes a unity, which is the primordial virtual totality that differentiates itself according to lines of divergence but which still subsists in its unity and totality in each line. ibid p.67

For me this is where Being gets interesting: being virtual. For a virtuality always has a technics, the coding and decoding mechanisms of intelligence. As Keith indicates, a technology is the solution to indeterminacy, a virtuality that operates in parallel to real time. At this point technology, ethics, philosophy and metaphysics conjoin. And most importantly for me, creativity is shown to be underpinned with technology.

The next question is this: to what extent is this virtuality contained within and maintainable by an organism, an internally differentiating germ? And to what extent is it always reliant upon a third term, an externally constituted and relatively autonomus viral plane cutting transversally across? Both are true to an extent in different specific situations. Here Deleuze discovers an ethology of such types of differentiation: abstract machines. From an ethics to an ethology.

And I will coninue reading Germinal Life.


If you have something interesting to contribute to this, please contact me

March 04, 2005

Difference and Repetition, Nietzsche and the creative turn

Follow-up to Freeing the concept of creativity from the concept of possession from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

The answer, for Deleuze at least, is yes. Or rather, the concept of the new or difference (in its composite with repetition), is one of these 'helper concepts' – Nietzsche's best friend, saving him from the interminable closed cycle of Cartesian recognition or Kantian good-sense.

The Image of Thought chapter in Difference and Repetition states it quite plainly. The really big question for philosophy is not how recognition (clear, distinct, true or otherwise) is possible - that's trivial. Rather it is the question of how we break out of the everyday, the familiar. It is the question of how difference is possible. But not in some abstract sense, but genuinely how we go beyond the algorithms of our constitution. So it is the case that Deleuze is not Kantian (or as Keith Robinson has said, perhaps he is re-activating a pre-Kantianism). He was out to engineer a creative turn rather than fixing the critical turn.

In Difference and Repetition, as in Logic of Sense, we see Deleuze dealing with the metaphysical question of how creativity, difference, is metaphysically possible: what is its ontology? In this domain the question concerns the possibility of time itself.

Nietzsche's distinction between the creation of new values and the recognition of established values should not be understood in a historically relative manner… In fact it concerns a difference which is both formal and in kind. Difference and Repetition p.136

But it takes an involvement with Guattari to give Deleuze a chance to answer the really useful problem of creativity. Guattari the psychotherapist involved on a daily basis with dislodging people from the viscious circle. This engagement combines with Deleuze's fascination with painting and with cinema to establish, following on from the ontology of difference and repetitiion, a practical approach to creativity.

September 15, 2004

Bergson's intuition and reflection in learning

…negative freedom is the result of manufactured social prejudices where, through social institutions, such as education and language, we become enslaved by 'order-words' that identify for us ready-made problems which we are forced to solve. This is not 'life', and it is not the way life itself has 'creatively' evolved. Therefore, true freedom, which can only be a positive freedom, lies in the power to decide through hesitation and indeterminacy and to constitute problems themselves.

Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, Routledge 1999, p.23

This 'experimental and ethical pedagogy' (ibid, p.14) employs the Bergsonian method of intuition, which involves a reflection on the difference manifest in creative thought. When one realises that a currently held concept simply could not have existed nor could have been analytically deduced at a previous time in a previous state, one gets a sense of time as pure difference, despatialized. That feeling is creative, and the philosophical method that draws people into this reflection is Bergson's intuition. Only once the reliance on ready-made problems is abandoned can creativity occur.

The word 'implication' has a special meaning in this. Imagine reality as a large sheet of fabric. The fabric is folded to present you with one aspect, which you may grasp at. The fold (French – pli) is an aspect. You struggle to hold onto that fold, and find that you can only do so by holding onto other folds that follow on to it. As you try to grasp other folds, to unfold the folds, to follow the im-pli-cations, your actions on the further folds cause the first fold to be pulled and distorted in your grip. Out of this feedback loop the specific problem of this set of folds emerges. At some point you are able to stabilise the folds in relation to each other, and have a solution.

When you grasp the fact that a new problem has emerged, that the positing of the problem is beyond your control, and that you must evolve in relation to the problem in a way that was previously both unthinkable and impossible, you have intuition in Bergson's sense. Intuition is a reflection on learning, a creative learning.

And that's why Deleuze makes such a big issue out of the role of fabric in baroque art (le Pli, Leibniz and the Baroque), the role of the curtain in the paintings of Bacon (Logic of Sensation), and the relationship between canvas, paint and brush-stroke.