A Deleuzian Metaphysics

Reading Difference and Repetition

Photo via bdavidhagen.wordpress.com

I’m currently reading Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, and am trying to work out how to understand the metaphysics that is discussed in it. I’ll try to share a working sketch of where I’m at, drawing heavily on Plato and Nietzsche.

First, Plato’s theory of Ideal Forms. If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of Plato and his Forms, check out my video here, otherwise, skip past it:

A short overview of Forms:

  • Eternal and changeless
  • Accessible to reason only (except beauty)
  • Normal objects participate in them
  • Forms have characteristics they give to particulars (self-predicated)

In other words, every thing that exists partakes in its Ideal Form. So each individual chair, like the one you’re sitting in, partakes in the Ideal Chair. Each chair, though, is in a sense a poor copy of the Ideal Chair. Epistemologically, this is where a Platonic critique of art/media is able to enter – a painting of a chair is one step further removed from an Ideal Chair. That means if we were trying to understand reality, the truth of the Ideal Chair, this is harder to do through an imitation (painting) of the chair that partakes in the Ideal Chair. Difference from the Ideal Form is thus negatively understood here. Plato, then, wants to find a way out this simulacra, out of the metaphorical cave.

Deleuze also consider’s Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Return. A traditional reading of the eternal return suggests that there are two possible ways it was meant by Nietzsche:

  1. As a normative guide: We can imagine that every action we choose to take must be eternally repeated (must eternally return). If this were true – which is different than claiming it is true – how would this impact the choices we make if we chose as if we were choosing for all of eternity?
  2. As a metaphysical/ontological assertion: In this interpretation, Nietzsche would be claiming that everything actually does repeat, and in exactly the same way. Thus, we are either always already repeating choices we’ve made before, or choosing for all of eternity for the first time right now. In this case, everything actually does literally repeat.

To the best of my understanding, Deleuze offers a third non-standard interpretation of Nietzsche’s eternal return: everything returns but different – through difference, due to difference, and actually different.

This interpretation seems to only really make sense if one assumes an ontologically monist position that Deleuze draws from Spinoza. Everything is ultimately one substance, but is “expressed” differently through modes. In this way, substance comes together through habit (in a Deleuzian sense) to form a particular thing (a chair, or a person). Once those habits dissipate, the substance returns, but not as the same chair or the same person – rather as something different.

Plato is important here, because these modes of substance (individual things)  are now not partaking in any Ideal Form. They are not copies or a simulacra. They are different in themselves. This one monist substance returns eternally in different ways:

Overturning Platonism, then, means denying the primacy of original over copy, of model over image…When eternal return is the power of (formless) Being, the simulacra is the true character or form – the ‘being’ – of that which is. When the identity dissolves, being escapes to attain univocally, and begins to revolve around the different. pp. 66-67

This is the closet I’ve been able to come to making sense of Deleuze’s metaphysics in the context of any other philosophy. What do you think – am I on the right track? None of the summaries or lectures I’ve found have quite explained it in this way…

However, if this is right, what might this type of metaphysics mean for art and media? If Plato’s metaphysics rejected a painting because it was a simulacra that made it harder to attain knowledge, where are we if there is no distinction between reality and simulacra? How do we evaluate the painting in that context?

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