January 11, 2006

Self–positing concepts and double articulation

Follow-up to What is Philosophy? from Philosophy

Concepts are said, by Deleuze and Guattari, to be "self-positing". This is an extraordinary and uncommon realisation.

So that which emerges, that which is realized, from a free and creative act, is also, they suggest, that which necessarily posits itself. (Darren Ambrose)

How do we understand the "freedom" of the concept? Another forumulation gives a clue: concepts are not solutions to problems, but rather constitute a problematization only made sensible through the concept – that is to say, the concept both disrupts experience, diverts it into unexpected and intense differentiations, and at the same time provides the conditions through which it may be reintegrated. For example, if a concept of "personal narrative" were to act to integrate my experiences, if it were to be a dominant force in my life, then experiences would be concieved as more or less consistent with such an organising schema. Consider the extreme in which all other possible concepts are themselves reduced to the status of problematic events to be integrated into the personal narrative. As such they become components of the concept of personal narrative, more or less well integrated.

But surely if the concept were to be genuinely self-positing or "free" then it must break its dependency upon the contingencies of the experience that feeds the discretion of its self-positing identity? The concept then becomes a condition for the possiblity of all experience. Would it be right to say that this is concept used in a properly Kantian sense? A transcendental imagination that anticipates or problematizes all possible experience?

Deleuze and Guattari seek an alternative: a double articulation in which the two dimensions are simultaneously connected with each other (although contingent) and yet freely autonomous (niether determining the other). Not the hierarchical double articulation of structuralism, but two independent and connected articulations:

  1. concepts that are mobile, abstract, and independent of any specific time or space – capable of posing their problem wherever and whenever;
  2. experiences (chaosmic incarnation, virtual enunciative nuclei) that exist despite of and in the absence of any specific concept.

The engagement and disengagement of the two articulations, their slippage, gives rise to history. On the one hand the virtual (as in real but unspecifiable) becoming (constant differentiation of difference) provides constant novelty. And on the other, the inescapable actuality (specification/speciation) of the concept, against which all stands as problematic, gives an independent constant (memory). When the concepts achieve a high degree of autonomy, and at the same time are able to connect with a wide range of experiences, then we have the concept of philosophy (and its history) described by Deleuze and Guattari in What Is Philosophy?

And finally, the inevitable question is: how do some concepts achieve a high degree of autonomy from the experiences that they problematize, whilst still being able to easily connect with a diverse range of experiences? D&G's conjecture is that they must establish some kind of plane of immanence in which the occurrence of events that can be connected to the concept are encouraged, though not determined. The ontological status of a concept is then more like that of life in general: not an over-determined causal necessity, but rather a likelihood, the definition (better: focus) of which is constantly oscillating around an equilibrium (the fuzziness with which they oppose logic). This field, out of which events are actualised for the concept with uncanny pre-sentiment or intuition, is again a virtuality (it seems real without being actual), but a virtuality of another degree.

Robert O-Toole


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