All entries for Friday 27 January 2006

January 27, 2006

Deleuze: The Passage from Noise to Voice

My concern with What is Philosophy? is basically related to one of the certain ways by way of which Deleuze and Guattari formulate their concept of “plane of immanence” soon after they offer their concept of a concept. Therefore, right at the start, it will be necessary to mention that Deleuze and Guattari think of the concepts as events: the creation of concepts in Deleuze and Guattari does not take the form of rigid, fixed concepts. Rather, it is an act of transformations, or “becomings” so that a concept never remains as it is. Their text therefore demands a reading based on construction and destruction at the same time such that a concept as such never comes into being. However, this complexity, thought with respect to the question of mimesis in the philosophy of Deleuze (and Guattari) casts several problems as the philosophers deploy the relationship between concepts, the plane of immanence, the image of thought and a strange “sieve.” In order to explain my point clearly I shall introduce some quotations taken from successive pages in What is Philosophy?:

“Concepts are absolute surfaces or volumes, formless and fragmentary, whereas the plane is formless, unlimited absolute, neither surface nor volume but always fractal.”1

“The plane of immanence is not a concept that is or can be thought but rather the image of thought, the image thought gives itself of what itmeans to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought.”2

“If philosophy begins with the creation of concepts, then the plane of immanence must be regarded as prephilosophical.”3

“The concept is the beginning of philosophy, but the plane is its instituting. The plane is clearly not a program, design, end or means: it is a plane of immanence that constitutes the absolute ground of philosophy, its earth, its deterritorialisation, the foundation on which it creates its concepts.”4

“The plane of immanence is like a section of chaos and acts like a sieve.”5

“In short, the first philosophers are those who institute a plane of immamnence like a sieve stretched over the chaos.”6

As we all know that Deleuze wrote an appendix about simulacra at the end of The Logic of Sense where he privileges simulacra over mimesis with the intention of reversing Platonism.
“So "to reverse Platonism" means to make the simulacra rise and affirm their rights among icons and copies. The problem no longer has to do with the distinction Essence-Appearance or Model-Copy. This distinction operates completely within the world of representation. (...) The simulacrum is not a degraded copy. It harbors a positive power which denies the original and the copy, the model and the reproduction. At least two divergent series are internalised in the simulacrum – neither can be assigned as the original, neither as the copy. (...) There is no possible hierarchy, no second, no third (...) Simulation is the phantasm itself, that is, the effect of the functioning of the simulacrum as machinery – a Dionysian machine.”7

However, the unfoldment of the description of the plane of immanence in What is Philosophy? as a sieve which cuts across a certain section of chaos casts several conflicts with regard to this privileging for the figure of the sieve goes to showing that mimesis, or a model-copy relationship is still what determines the relationship between the plane of immanence and the chaos.

In order to concentrate on probable reasons for this conflict, or the upsurging question of mimesis, I offer that we should read carefully some certain sections in Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense where he writes about a certain “passage from noise to voice.”

I would like to state immediately that my concern for this sieve emanates from my interest in “noise” in philosophy, and, therefore, a concern for a certain type of reading Nietzsche together with Deleuze: Nietzsche as the philosopher who introduced noise into philosophy not only with his work but also with his life. As some of us might know, the whip cracks, it produces “noise,” and this is the most unbearable noise for Schopenhauer 8. On the other hand, when Nietzsche hears the cracking of the whip in Turin, he collapses and he never comes back “I am stupid because I’m dead, I’m dead because I’m stupid.”9 That’s what he says now and then in his moments of vocality. The reason why he produced this mumble, and the place, the locality, from which it emanated and assumed a vocal form will always remain a secret for us. The only thing we have about this passage, or, perhaps, about this passage from sanity to madness, but also from madness to vocality, is his work.

As Ecce Homo bears witness to, the question of locality most uncannily visited Nietzsche, informing various passages from one thing to another. Moreover, in one of the fragments in Will to Power, Nietzsche also wrote about locality and action at a distance.10

Yet, first and foremost, what is a passage? How and when and why does one pass from one thing to another? How does a passage become what it is? How does one become what one is? Is all the thought about passages nothing but a thought about a certain passage which cannot be theorised unless one reappropriates the mimetic? Do we talk about passages in order to undermine a certain aporia, to shield ourselves before an impossibility? Having mentioned locality, do all the passages point to the workings of a force, some action at a distance, which, in its inaccessibility, both problematizes the thought on passages, and also at the same time is the condition of all passages? Can it be the spirit of gravity, as Nietzsche put it in Zarathustra, that forces one to find the bottom in an abyss? The metaphysics of the abyss, according to which even an abyss is localizable.

By appropriating a style, if a style can be appropriated, I would like to allude to various interpretations of Nietzsche, by way of another fragment from Gay Science:

“Not to be dead and yet no longer alive? (…) It seems as if the noise here has led me into fantasies. All great noise leads us to move happiness into some quiet distant. When a man stands in the midst of his own noise, in the midst of his own surf of plans and projects then he is apt also to see quiet, magical beings gliding past him and to long for their happiness and seclusion: women. He almost thinks that his better self dwells there among the women, and that in these quiet regions even the loudest surf turns into deathly quiet, and life itself into a dream about life. Yet! Yet! Noble enthusiast, even on the most beautiful sailboat there is a lot of noise, and unfortunately much small and petty noise. The magic and the most powerful effect of women is, in philosophical language, action at a distance, actio in distans; but this requires first of all and above all – distance.”11

Why noise, why women and why action at a distance?

One can perhaps produce a response to these questions by reconsidering some passages in Deleuze, one of the most rigorous interpreters of Nietzsche. Therefore, let’s have a look at a certain passage, a moment of specularisation in The Logic of Sense, which assumes the form of a “passage from noise to voice” in “The Twenty-Seventh Series of Orality.”

Let’s contextualise first. Up to now in The Logic of Sense, Deleuze has told us the relationship between the series, the resonance between them, the constitution of events, actualisation and counter-actualisation of the events, the disjunctive synthesis, and its affirmation, etc., and now the question is how to theorise the person (if it is not going to be an “individual”) with respect to his theory of the event. “The Twenty-Fifth Series” is thus called “Univocity,” and univocity in Deleuze helps to give freedom to all the compossible worlds so that the “individual” would reorganise his/her relationship not only with this world, but with all the compossible ones. Therefore, it is purely a question of form, that is, how to transcend the question of the form, known as the “individual.”12 Such a transcendence, if it is possible, requires in the first place, as we know it from Difference and Repetition, radicalising the “image of thought” so that there will no more be a form on which the constitution of the individual as such is based. In other words, what is known as individual will now be constituted on the basis of simulacra – not on the basis of mimesis – and thus the individual will be freed from being shaped by any predetermined model. On the other hand, if such a project means to open up the individual to multiplicities it will also have to deal with the question of ontology because even if Deleuze explains it with positing pre-individual singularities, they will nevertheless require, an appearance, a moment of being, or, rather, a passage from absence to presence, (or from non-being to being, if you like). Therefore, Deleuze writes:

“Philosophy merges with ontology, but ontology merges with the univocity of Being. (…) The univocity of Being does not mean that there is one and the same Being; on the contrary, beings are multiple and different, they are always produced by a disjunctive synthesis, and they themselves are disjointed and divergent, membra disjuncta. The univocity of Being signifies that Being is Voice that it is said, and that it is said in one and the same “sense” of everything about which it is said. It occurs, therefore, as a unique event for everything that happens to the most diverse things, Eventum tantum for all events, the ultimate form of all the forms which remain disjointed in it, but which bring about the resonance and the ramification of their disjunction.”13

In The Logic of Sense we are somehow familiar with the concept of “resonance,” because whenever Deleuze writes about the relationship between the series, he always refers to it, and resonance is explained only in the “Thirty-Fourth Series,” as follows: “Let us call the resonance “intrinsic beginning.””14 Although, Deleuze gives resonance such a function, that is, a function which almost verges on ontology in an obscure fashion, it is still difficult to see why ontology should be explained by accounting for a Voice. However, it remains a difficulty only until when one thinks of resonance, its being an “intrinsic beginning” in relationship to Voice, and, basically, with respect to the question of “voice” in the univocity of Being. In other words, if univocity signifies an event, an event of all events, it also points to a concern for genesis, where resonance can be rethought as an “intrinsic beginning,” a generic force, which makes genesis itself possible by triggering a passage between “that which comes before voice” and voice. Yes, that’s true, if one explains Being by Voice – which is not something specular but audible – one can, to a certain extent, overcome the difficulties that will be posed by an attempt at answering the question of ontology in a specular scheme: sound, as almost all the nineteenth century theory of music bears witness to is that rare art which does not imitate. Even so, this does not prevent this discourse from being populated by questions such as: if the coming-into-being of resonance, and its necessity is explained by Deleuze as an “intrinsic beginning,” (though its genesis can never be traced), doesn’t such a beginning also require a passage from “that which comes before voice” to voice (no matter if one defines it also as “neutral,” or “extra-Being”15 )? Can one be saved from a specular scheme, and from ontology, even when one is dealing with the problem of Being or unity not in a specular but an “aural” scheme?

Similar questions flare up in the “Twenty-Sixth Series of Language,” for here all the questions which have been actually gravitating towards the possibility of such a passage find an origin which they have been pointing to. In other words, if the discussions on sense and nonsense, paradoxical entity, and the event, up to the discussion on univocity of being were concerned with the relationship between the word and the thing, or the duality of eating/speaking, and its displacement into the proposition, that is, into the duality of denotation and expression, it was because they have all been pointing to this passage that would make possible a rigorous discussion on “language,” which would also constitute an origin for “individual,” and “psyche” in the rest of The Logic of Sense. Therefore, Deleuze opens this series with a conviction that “events make language possible,”16 and he immediately adds:

“But making possible does not mean causing to begin. (…) To render language possible thus signifies assuring that sounds are not confused with the sonorous qualities of things, with the sound effects of bodies, or with their actions and passions. What renders language possible is that which separates sounds from bodies and organizes them into propositions, freeing them for the expressive function. It is always a mouth which speaks, but the sound is no longer the noise of a body which eats – a pure orality – in order to become the manifestation of a subject expressing itself. (…)And in truth, without the event all of this would be only noise – and an indistinct noise.”17

And, in the next series, “Twenty-Seventh Series of Orality,” he also adds:

“We constantly relive in our dreams the passage from noise to voice.”18

So, obviously, for Deleuze, there is such a moment of absolute separation, a passage, between sounds and sonorous elements (noise), made possible by the events. And events, not only make possible the language, but also the subject. From now on, a decision which was there, and suspending – probably due to the impossibility of saying something and its sense at the same time, but conversely due to the possibility of saying it, given the impossibility of escaping from representation – since the beginning of The Logic of Sense is thus given an “appearance,” making possible also the history of the psyche, which Deleuze reconstructs by reading his own theory of the sense and the event into psychoanalysis, basically into the works of Melanie Klein, and Jacques Lacan.

Let’s stop here, and think about what might probably have led to such a passage in Deleuze. Not because it is thinkable, or localizable with an exact clarity of thought but at least, this can be shown without making appear what cannot appear, considering the “distance” we referred to in Nietzsche in the beginning.

This is the “Twenty-Fourth Series,” and the series is about the “communication of the events.” Here, we find Deleuze celebrating Leibniz as the “first theoretician of the event,” for it was him who saw for the first time that “ ‘compossible’ and ‘incompossible’ cannot be reduced to the identical and contradictory, which govern only the possible and the impossible.”19 If compossibility is defined, on a pre-individual level, by the convergence of the series, the incompossibility is defined by the divergence of the series. Yet Leibniz made use of these definitions only to the extent that the compossible worlds, being incompossible with the best possible of all the worlds (our world), should therefore diverge from it. Hence, “He made a negative use of divergence of disjunction – one of exclusion.”20 So, Deleuze’s critique of Leibniz is directed to the negative use of divergence by Leibniz, and therefore he is concerned with a Nietzschean affirmation of divergences where the God, being dead, does not chose anymore the best possible world. Deleuze asks: “But what does it mean to make divergence and disjunction the objects of affirmation?”21 Of course, it means the irreducibility of the difference to the same and identical:

“We are no longer faced with an identity of contraries, which would still be inseparable as such from a movement of the negative and of exclusion. We are rather faced with a positive distance of different elements: no longer to identify two contraries with the same, but to affirm their distance as that which relates one to the other insofar as they are “different.” The idea of a positive distance (and not as an annulled or overcome distance) appears to us essential, since it permits the measuring of contraries through their finite difference instead of equating difference with a measureless contrariety, and contrariety with an identity which is itself infinite. It is not difference which must “go as far as” contradiction, as Hegel thought in his desire to accommodate the negative; it is the contradiction which must reveal the nature of its difference as it follows the distance corresponding to it. The idea of positive distance belongs to topology and to the surface.”22

The positive distance, therefore, is finite, but its finitude, instead of foregrounding a contradiction which can be overcome by means of a dialectical synthesis (for which measure gains importance insofar as the distance can be overcome so that the contradiction can be resolved) puts forward distance as distance where the difference between two things is preserved, and, made open to topological determination, so that it can appear and be measured. And, hence, Deleuze’s illustration of the matter with Nietzsche’s perspectivism, or his capacity to reverse the perspectives: health in sickness and sickness in health, where the two states are not seen as contraries in a dialectical scheme, but as a means of preserving distance as distance, as a measurable distance between two states, not only in order to observe their convergence but also their divergence, and thus affirm their difference. So, having a perspective and a capacity to reverse it is a matter of the irreducibility of the two different divergent elements as a result of which one gains a point of view, in Leibnizean fashion, not from the point of view of oneself, but from the point of views of things themselves. All this, of course, with one radical difference from Leibniz where one observes only the affirmation of those that converge whereas in Nietzsche “the point of view is opened onto a divergence which it affirms (…) Each term becomes the means of going all the way to the end of another, by following the entire distance. Nietzsche’s perspective – his perspectivism – is a much more profound art than Leibniz’s point of view, for divergence is no longer a principle of exclusion, an disjunction no longer a means of separation. Incompossibility is now a means of communication.”23 And also, one should add, opening the point of view onto divergence erases the discontinuity between the possible and the incompossible, and therefore a maximum continuity is maintained not only between things in the most possible world but between all the worlds be it possible and/or incompossible.

When one considers this discussion on distance with respect to the actio in distans we quoted from Nietzsche in the beginning, all is fine, except one thing that we skipped when we were reading Deleuze’s comment on distance. In the same paragraph, after celebrating Nietzsche’s perspectivism on health and illness, Deleuze also comments on what happens to this perspectivism after Nietzsche goes mad:

“Conversely, Nietzsche does not lose his health when he is sick, but when he can no longer affirm the distance, when he is no longer able, by means of his health, to establish sickness as a point of view on health (then, as the Stoic say, the role is over, the play has ended).”24

Let us remember what Nietzsche was saying: "Not to be dead and yet no longer alive."

I would like to claim at this point that the question of distance in Nietzsche can invite two different approaches:
1)one should keep one’s distance from noise so that the scene becomes specular and therefore is opened to specularisation, and/or theorisation;
2) one should consider the distance from noise not because of a concern for the specular but because “to be standing in the midst of one’s own noise” brings along such a distancing for, one, being neither dead nor alive, is both in the midst of it and also, the impossibility of experiencing it as such, interrupts both any attempt of speculating about, and also an absolute identification with, it.

Not to be dead and yet no longer alive?
Can this be the legacy for us?

Can it be a matter of not knowing anymore whether one is sick or healthy rather than having a perspective? Can it be a matter of de-sonance where one can no longer measure sickness and health unless one has a sieve?

(But doesn’t one appropriate the actio in distans when one posits a passage from “noise to voice”?)


1. Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. London: Verso, 1994, p. 36

2. What is Philosophy?, p. 37.

3. What is Philosophy?, p. 40.

4. What is Philosophy?, p. 41.

5. What is Philosophy?, p. 42.

6. What is Philosophy?, p. 43.

7. Deleuze, G., The Logic of Sense. Ed. Constantin Boundas. Trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. London: Continuum, 2003, pp. 262–3.

8. See, Schopenhauer, "On Din and Noise." Parerga and Parlipomena. 2 vols. Trans. E.F.J. Payne. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974; reprint 2000, Vol. II, 642–43; and, also my “Noise on Noise,” forthcoming in Sub-stance.

9. Nietzsche quoted by Avital Ronell, in “Hitting the Streets,” Finitude’s Score, Univ. of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London, 1994, p. 81.

10. “Time-Atom Theory,” F. Nietzsche, Nachgelassene Fragmente, Early 1873: (tr. Carol Diethe (with modifications by Keith Ansell Pearson) from Kritische Studienausgabe, Band 7, Berlin and New York, 1988, Pli 9 (2000) 2. )

11. Nietzsche, F., The Gay Science, Vintage Books, New York: 1974, Fragment 60, pp. 123–4.

12. “The problem is therefore one of knowing how the individual would be able to transcend his form and his syntactical link with world …”, The Logic of Sense, p. 178.

13. The Logic of Sense, p. 179.

14. The Logic of Sense, p. 239.

15. The Logic of Sense, p. 180.

16. The Logic of Sense, p. 181.

17. The Logic of Sense, pp. 181–2.

18. The Logic of Sense, p. 194.

19. The Logic of Sense, p. 171.

20. The Logic of Sense, p. 172.

21. The Logic of Sense, p. 172.

22. The Logic of Sense, p. 172–3.

23. The Logic of Sense, p. 174.

24. The Logic of Sense, p. 173.

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