The inexhaustible wealth of appearance, information and specificity

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When perceiving an object, for example a chair, the statement “this is X” (this is a chair) is almost entirely uninteresting. The concept by which we identify the object is a mere word, and in a sense entirely devoid of meaning.

That concept does help us align this object with other entities in space and time. It sets expectations about what has been done and what can be done to and with it, and it links the object to social practices. But none of these things are very interesting. After all, we understand quite well what society expects from chairs.

What is more interesting is all the other statements we could make about a particular chair, that is, all the qualities, information, phenomena and experiences that do not fit the general concept of a chair. Call this the chair’s particularity. It may be unusually sturdy or rickety. It may evoke a sense of sorrow or longing for a person who used to sit on it. It may make us think about economics. Its shape may even have something spiritual about it. It may, if it is a chair in an abandoned house, be decomposing. And even this is just scratching the surface.

In all likelihood, we are able to produce an unbounded number of interesting statements about this locus that is the chair. (Recall the famous school assignment about writing a story several hundred words long about the face of a coin.) And this would hold true both when we speak freely, metaphorically and poetically, and when we restrict ourselves to testable, scientific (in the modern sense) statements. New metaphors can always be invented, new scientific equipment may always be constructed. These additional modes of relatedness to the locus provide, perhaps, the basis for new statements.

How are we to understand this fundamental overflowing, this exuberant blossoming, the profound potential wealth that we draw upon and realise when we articulate statements about an entity such as this chair? It is not part of the concept “chair”. This concept is overlaid as an afterthought in order to make the surplus of impressions manageable and graspable. We are used to economising the use of our consciousness, dispensing it only sparingly, through the shielding, buffering and deflection that concepts afford us.

For Heidegger, being is the basis of intelligibility, a carrier of meaning. Language and intelligibility exists only on the basis of primordial being. He makes it his task to inquire as to what this being is.

For Georges Bataille, all activity that involves redistribution of energy, human and otherwise, accumulates a surplus that necessarily must be released in some way.

Myths and archetypes repeat themselves throughout history and society, in constantly renewed forms which are both always the same and always made from different specific constitutent parts. They can always be repeated in a different way. The hero myth exists in every culture (see for example Jung or Campbell). Conversely, this myth in all its specific detail is always different each time it appears.

In difference and repetition, Deleuze argues that conceptual machinery is constantly at work, extracting difference from whatever the underlying basis is.

Genetic material successfully reproduces and preserves itself, and perhaps prospers, only through the continual introduction of difference and variation at an appropriate rate.

The digital world, on the other hand, denies the possibility of generating an unbounded number of statements from some entity (such as a record in a database). In fact, its essence is the possibility of perfect copying, which happens only when the information being carried is strictly circumscribed and limited.

All these concepts, it seems, have something in common – the interaction between a specific form and the possibility of an infinite number of variations of and departures from that form.

Comments 3

  1. Fri Intellektuell wrote:

    I have to admit I did not manage to read more than the beginning of Difference and repetition. But for a contemporary Swedish reader, your brief summary is really interesting. ”You should not see the difference between people”, is an oft-repeaed mantra here. And according to your summary of Deleuze’s doctoral thesis, the human mind is built to see differences. Then I wonder: Was Deleuze a racist? Isn’t it racist to see difference where it is possible to see likeness instead?

    I guess Deleuze would say that race is only one difference among a multitude of differences that humans are constituted to perceive. Still, if you start seeing differences between people, you can’t exclude the possibility that those differences will appear to you as important, on one or another occasion.

    Posted 31 Jan 2016 at 5:08 pm
  2. Johan Nystrom wrote:

    Fri Intellektuell, it’s nice to see you here again.

    What I wrote here is not a summary of Deleuze’s book. It’s only one of many impressions I took from it. I am far from having digested it fully.

    Also note that what I wrote about genetics and the digital world is my own speculation, not taken from Deleuze, but congruent with his thinking, it seems to me.

    I was thinking on a very abstract level when I wrote this. But I absolutely think, and this is also a Nietzschean viewpoint I think, that we should see and acknowledge as many distinctions and differences as possible. This to me is ethical, since on some level it means letting things be as they are, acceptance. Distinctions and judgments also seem to be a condition for manifolds and multiplicities to flourish (in some sense).

    I think the answer to the question “was Deleuze a racist” in part depends on your answer to “was Nietzsche a racist”? The answer to which is not straightforward I think. My understanding is that both thinkers promote distinction, without promoting any kind of oppression. Deleuze in particular is very clearly anti-fascist and anti-oppression.
    Deleuze’s “Nietzsche and Philosophy” may be useful to shed further light on this topic.

    This topic strays rather far from what I wanted to touch on in my essay but it is interesting in itself and probably worth revisiting in the future.

    Posted 02 Feb 2016 at 12:12 pm
  3. Fri Intellektuell wrote:

    As a Swede, I see racists everywhere. It’s a part of our national character : )

    If you acknowledge that some people appear to be more…stupid than other people, then you acknowledge their right to be (or appear to be) comparatively stupid. Well, fair enough I think. But I don’t think everybody would agree.

    When reading your post, I couldn’t help substituting ”human being” for ”chair”. Not very tasteful, probably, in the light of Kant’s ideal to see human beings as ends in themselves, and not as means to other peoples’ ends. Still, philosophy should be comprehensive, so I started thinking about what happens if you talk about people in the same sense as you talk about chairs. What if we se ”human being” as an equally meaningless concept as ”chair”?

    Posted 03 Feb 2016 at 4:19 am

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