On ‘Difference in Itself’

Difference and Repetition was Deleuze’s PhD thesis that he completed in 1968 but only defended in 1969 due to a recurrence of tuberculosis that was to effect him for his life.

The book is structured around four distinct, yet related aims.

  1. To read the history of philosophy from the point of view of difference
    1. What do philosophers make of difference?
    2. What does their use of difference allow us to think?
    3. It is a woven text, pulling threads out of the history of philosopher and then stitching them together.
  2. To effect a critical reconstruction
    1. Difference is always thought in relation to identity
    2. Repetition is understood as the repetition of the Same
    3. But for Deleuze, there are profound meanings hidden beneath these superficial assumptions. He wants to critique the subordination of difference to identity in the form of the concept. Through this critique, Deleuze wants to construct a new concept of repetition, the condition for our everyday selves.
  3. This new concept of difference, or difference-in-itself, is what Deleuze calls Being. The new conception of repetition is time. Thus, the book may be considered to be a radical conception of Being IN Time, an obvious play on Heidegger’s Zeit and Zine (assuming Deleuze was across Heidegger in 1968, something that was discussed after the lecture).
  4. Finally, it is important to think about the structure and style of the book. I’ll finish this later, perhaps with a rumination on free, indirect discourse (like Joyce) and the insistence on philosophy as storytelling.

Kant and the critique of representation

Deleuze is writing the book as a critique of the concept of representation that he finds in Kant, typical of what he sees as the problem of Western philosophy, namely the subordination of difference to identity. These problems are constructed in 4 distinct ways:

  1. Instead of a concept of difference, we get conceptual difference, or differences based on comparisons of form and identity.
  2. The phenomenological reduction of perceptions to the primacy of similarity based on experience.
  3. The difference between kinds of things (the category of being) where existence is always relative to a higher concept such as the form of analogy so common in philosophy.
  4. The logical register, or the opposition of predicates (such as the predicate fly/don’t fly logically extended to birds to indicate comparative difference.

The ‘I think’ is the most general principle of representation – in other words, the source of these elements and of the unity of all these faculties: I conceive, I judge, I imagine, I remember and I perceive – as though these were the four branches of the Cogito. On precisely these branches, difference is crucified. They form quadripartite fetters under which only that which is identical, similar, analogous or opposed can be considered different: difference becomes an object of representation always in relation to a conceived identity a judged analogy, an imagined opposition or a perceived similitude. Under these four coincident figures, difference acquires a sufficient reason in the form of a principium comparationis. For this reason, the world of representation is characterised by its inability to conceive of difference in itself; and by the same token, its inability to conceive of repetition for itself, since the latter is grasped only by means of recognition, distribution, reproduction and resemblance in so far as these alienate the prefix RE in simple generalities of representation. The postulate of recognition was therefore a first step towards a much more general postulate of representation. p.138

The journey that Deleuze takes us on leads us through Aristotle, Hegel, Leibniz, Duns Scotus, Spinoza and Plato. All in the first chapter (as I said, it isn’t an easy read) to arrive at the argument that to understand difference as difference-in-itself we need to understand that Being is time, whereby atemporality (in the guise of the Creator who sits outside time) is no longer available. Reality is produced without reference to a higher ideal, there is only time, dynamism and eternal return. Reality, for Deleuze, is the reality of impermanence, and as a metaphysician the absolute is impermanence.