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DeLanda on Deleuze

A Neo-Materialist Perspective on the Body

Jon Lindblom

If Deleuze is the greatest materialist philosopher ever it is because he successfully
replaced an ontology based on essences and the general and the particular with an
ontology organised around processes and universal and individual singularities. It
has been a recurring trend in contemporary philosophy to criticize the notion of
transcendental essences, but if essences must be eliminated, what is there to
replace it? It is the main focus of this text to describe how this could be done from a
strict materialist perspective, and even though Deleuze obviously is the key
philosopher here, my main resource will be Manuel DeLandas neo-materialist
interpretation of his ontology. The greatness in the work of DeLanda lies primarily in
his clear and concise unpacking of Deleuzes dense texts (but still giving the reader
much more than just an introduction) and in his rejection of the obscure Deleuze in
favour of a very realist and practical philosophy, which turns out to be extremely
systematic and concrete. This is the focus of his book Intensive Science and Virtual
Philosophy,1 which attempts at introducing Deleuzian ontology to an audience of
analytical philosophers of science and scientists interested in philosophical
questions. The first chapter of this book, entitled The Mathematics of the Virtual, will
be my primary source.2
In order to narrow the discussion down I will focus on something which is a very
important part of our existence, yet often has been neglected throughout the history
of philosophy: the body. As a contrast to philosophies which have subordinated the
body to the rational mind, and to classification schemes which have organized
organisms after general bodily features, I will try to show how we, through DeLanda
and Deleuze, may view the body as an expressive entity, actualized through
immanent processes and positive difference, and organized around individual and
universal singularities.
The Mathematical Background
For Deleuze, there are no essences, but only multiplicities. According to him, the
classical notion of eternal archetypes existing in an abstract space is absurd and
must be eliminated from philosophy. So he introduces multiplicities. Where, in an
essentialist ontology, one tries to find a set of defining characteristics which explain

the identity, and relationship, between the general and the particular, in a Deleuzian
ontology there are no such transcendent archetypes, but only immanent processes.
For the essentialist, there is only being without becoming, but for Deleuze there is
only becoming without being. This becoming may be expressed through the concept
of multiplicities meshed together on a virtual plane of immanence. It is this plane I will
focus on in this text. The formal definition of multiplicities is highly complex and has
origins in several branches of modern mathematics, which I wont try to fully illustrate
here. I will instead use some of its components in order to give a rather simplified
version, which I believe will be enough for our purpose, though.
Multiplicities are closely related to the term manifold, which was developed
through the differential geometry of Gauss and Riemann. A manifold may be defined
as a geometrical space with certain characteristic properties,1 and has its origins in
the analytic geometry of Descartes and Fermat, but breaks with this classical
tradition since it eliminates the supplementary higher dimension of analytic geometry.
For example, a two-dimensional surface no longer has to be embedded in an x, y
and z three-dimensional space, but may be studied without references to a global
space. Thus, the surface, or rather the curvature, becomes a space in itself; a field
of rapidnesses and slownesses, which is calculated as a rate of change giving
instantaneous values for infinitesimally small points along the curvature. This was the
insight of Gauss and he did it for two-dimensional spaces. Riemann, however, not
only went one step further, but many, when he did the same for N-dimensions. This is
the classical definition of a manifold: abstract spaces with a variable number of
dimensions, spaces which [can] be studied without the need to embed them into a
higher-dimensional (N+1) space.2 Here we find the first two defining features of a
Deleuzian multiplicity: variable numbers of dimensions and the elimination of an
external, supplementary dimension.3
The next step is to convert this highly theoretical model to a physical system and
this may be done by using the theories of dynamical systems. Here, a manifold
represents the space of possible states for a physical system, since its dimensions
represent the properties of a particular process within the system. This may then
model the dynamical behaviour of a physical object. DeLanda uses a pendulum and
a bicycle as examples, to show how their degrees of freedom (two for the pendulum
and ten for the bicycle), that is, the ways they are able to change, may be mapped
onto the dimensions of a manifold, which now is referred to as a state space. In this

space we can now find the objects changes of states along a curve; that is, we can
capture a process.4 This has led to great simplification in the study of dynamical
behaviour, but also to new resources such as certain topological features called
singularities, discovered by the mathematician Poincar. A singularity acts as an
attractor and has a large influence on the behaviour of the curvatures, and
consequently on the system itself. The attractors tend to represent the steady state of
the system (the structure the system most likely will adopt) since they govern the
distribution and behaviour of the curvatures, giving the system recurrent topological
features. This may sound abstract, but a simple example, which DeLanda also uses,
will clarify it. This is the example of a soap bubble, which adopts its perfectly
spherical form by a state space process guided by a single point attractor (the
topological singularity), resulting in the perfectly formed soap bubble.5 Furthermore,
this process is also mechanism-independent, meaning that singularities characterize
processes with different physical mechanisms. For example, a similar process which
actualizes the soap bubble also actualizes cubic salt crystals yet the mechanism
behind the two is very different. This mechanism-independence of singularities is, as
DeLanda points out, what makes them perfect candidates to replace essences.6
So, for Deleuze, the metric spaces of bodies perceived in the actual world are
actualized from a topological continuum. But what is this topological continuum?
Topology is one of many post-Euclidean geometries, and is of course very different
from classical geometry since it concerns geometric figures which remain invariant
under such deforming transformations as bending and stretching. Basically, a
topological space is a non-metric space which may be twisted and deformed without
losing its characteristic properties. This means, as DeLanda writes, that:
[F]igures which are completely distinct in Euclidean geometry (a triangle, a
square or a circle, for example) become one and the same figure, since they
can be deformed into one another. In this sense, topology may be said to be the
least differentiated geometry, the one with the least number of distinct
equivalence classes, the one in which many discontinuous forces have blended
into one continues one.7
Thus, topology may be described as a virtual plane where Euclidean figures are
deformed and meshed together into a single continuum. Between topology and

Euclidean geometry there are other geometries (differential projective affective) in

which the characteristics of topology and Euclidean geometry are combined (as we
proceed upwards through the various geometries, figures which where highly distinct
become increasingly less distinct, until they blend into the single topological
continuum). Thus, this morphogenetic view of geometries and their relations shows
us how non-metric space is progressively differentiated into the more familiar metric
space of Euclidean geometry. It also shows us how these intensive processes which
actualize metric space are characterized by a pure difference, not subordinated to
identity, but rather purely positive; for example, as a rate of change or speed of
becoming. This is related to progressive differentiation and symmetry-breaking
transitions which we also have to take a brief look at.
To do this, we need to discuss another important mathematical innovation, which is
the theory of groups. A group is a set of entities with a rule of combination and certain
special properties, where the one referred to as closure is the most important.
Closure means that, as Delanda writes: when we use the rule to combine any two
entities in the set, the result is an entity also belonging to the set.8 For example,
groups may consist of transformations which can be illustrated by a set of rotations
by ninety degrees (0, 90, 180, 270), where any two consecutive rotations produce a
rotation also belonging to the group (provided 360 equals zero). This allows us to
classify geometric figures by their invariants, which means that if we performed this
transformation on a cube, an observer who did not witness it would not be able to
see that it had occurred. However, if we rotated the cube 45 degrees, it would not
remain invariant. But this differs between various geometrical figures since a sphere
obviously would remain invariant through a rotation of 45 degrees; actually to every
type of rotation to any amount of degrees. Thus, the sphere has more symmetry than
the cube (with respect to rotation transformation).9
So instead of classifying geometrical objects by their essences (as in Euclidean
geometry), we classify them by looking at their degrees of symmetry. The
conclusions which must be emphasized here are two: firstly, geometrical figures are
not classified by static properties, but by active transformations; secondly, this also
allows us to envision, as DeLanda points out: a process which converts one of the
entities into the other.10 For example, in the example above the cube and the sphere
are related to each other (one is the subgroup of the other), which means that the
sphere can be transformed into a cube by losing invariance. That is, by undergoing a

symmetry-breaking transition.11 Once again, this may sound very abstract, but
DeLanda uses the more concrete example of phase transitions where physical
systems, at certain critical points of some parameter, changes from one state to
another to clarify this. A very simple example is how temperature in water (as pure
difference, rate of change or speed of becoming) reaches these critical points,
changing it from ice to liquid and from liquid to gas. Here, the gas would remain
invariant through any kind of transformation or rotation, while the solid would not.
Through these examples, the process of progressive differentiation through
symmetry-breaking transitions may now be connected to state spaces. For example,
a singularity in a state space may be converted into another, exactly by undergoing
this symmetry-breaking transition described above (this is referred to as
bifurcations) which consequently breaks the prior symmetry of the system. On top
of that (as I mentioned earlier), this process is mechanism-independent, so the
different realizations of the process (or multiplicity) bear no resemblance to each
other. Thus, as DeLanda writes: multiplicities give form to processes, not the final
product, so that the end results of processes realizing the same multiplicity may be
highly dissimilar from each other12 (like the soap bubble and the salt crystal). This
gives us a perfect candidate to replace essences: multiplicities progressively
differentiated from a topological continuum to a familiar Euclidean space. We now
have the basic tools to do a Deleuzian reading of the body.
The Body and Differentiating Processes
For Deleuze, who was very influenced by Darwin, an organism is not an eternal
essence, but rather a historical entity or an individual singularity. Furthermore, a
species is just the same as the individuals populating it, with the difference that it
operates on larger spatio-temporal scales. Species are actualizations of universal
singularities, which allow us to connect the highly theoretical discussion in part one to
this more concrete example of species. Because when Deleuze speaks of universal
singularities he explicitly refers to those topological singularities which guide a
differentiation process. Consequently, he replaces the general category of animal
with a topological diagram, and bodies with a body plan; because the process of
embryogenesis, which turns a fertilized egg into a fully formed organism, is an
example of this progressive differentiation initiating from a topological diagram. Thus,

this body plan may be described as an animal model which, through bending,
stretching and folding, differentiates itself into fully formed organisms. 1 The
organisms are implicated in the body plan and differentiated through topological
singularities, resulting in the various species in the kingdom of vertebrates (for
example) in which humans belong. This may be illustrated with the example of the
fertilized egg prior to its differentiation into an organism with tissues and organs.
DeLanda writes:
While in essentialist interpretations of embryogenesis tissues and organs are
supposed to be already given in the egg (preformed, as it were, and hence
having a clear and distinct nature) most biologists today have given up
preformism and accepted the idea that differentiated structures emerge
progressively as the egg develops. The egg is not, of course, an
undifferentiated mass: it possesses an obscure yet distinct structure defined by
zones of biochemical concentration and by polarities established by the
asymmetrical position of the yolk (or nucleus). But even though it does possess
the necessary biochemical materials and genetic information, these materials
and information do not contain a clear and distinct blueprint of the final
So, for Deleuze, the body is actualized by intensive differences (in temperature,
pressure, and so on) guided by the immanent self-organizing ability of matter itself.
Thus, he inverts the classical definition of morphogenesis (the birth of form) from that
of essences to that of processes, and consequently views the body not as an eternal
archetype, but rather as an expression of natures immanent power to unfold itself.
Hence, there is not only the body, but also the body without organs. A body without
organs is the body plan; a body of pure intensities prior to the differentiating
processes which actualize fully formed individuals.3 Thus, we are finally able to
formulate a satisfactory classification of the body in Deleuzian terms: a topological
diagram progressively differentiated through symmetry-breaking transitions, which is
organised around immanence, positive difference and individual and universal

1. DeLanda, Manuel, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, London:
Continuum, 2002.
2. DeLandas discussion of course covers much more, but the length of this text
does not allow me to go into further details. Nevertheless, I believe it wont be
necessary in order to make my arguments clear.
The Mathematical Background
1. DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, p. 10.
2. Ibid., p. 12. DeLanda also writes:
It is these N-dimensional curved structures, defined exclusively through their
intrinsic features, that were originally referred to by the term manifold. (Ibid.)
3. In Deleuzes own words:
Multiplicity must not designate a combination of the many and one, but rather
an organization belonging to the many as such, which has no need
whatsoever of unity in order to form a system. (Ibid.)
4. Ibid., p. 14.
After this mapping operation, the state of the object at any given instant of
time becomes a single point in the manifold, which is now called a state
space. In addition, we can capture in this model an objects changes of state if
we allow the representative point to move in this abstract space, one tick of
the clock at a time, describing a curve or trajectory. A physicist can then study
the changing behaviour of an object by studying the behaviour of these
representative trajectories. (Ibid., p. 13.)
5. Ibid., p. 15.
We can imagine the state space of the process which leads to these forms as
structured by a single point attractor (representing the point of minimal
energy). One way of describing the situation would be to say that a topological
form (a singular point in a manifold) guides a process which results in many
different physical forms, including spheres [] (Ibid.)

6. Ibid., p. 15.
7. Ibid., p. 24.
8. Ibid., p. 17.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. To put it more specifically:
When two or more entities are related as the cube and the sphere [], that is,
when the group of transformations of one is a subgroup of the other, it
becomes possible to envision a process which converts one of the entities into
the other by losing or gaining symmetry. For example, a sphere can become
a cube by loosing or gaining invariance to some transformations, or to use the
technical term, by undergoing symmetry-breaking transitions. (Ibid., p. 16-17.)
12. Ibid., p. 21.
Unlike the generality of essences, and the resemblance with which this
generality endows instantiations of an essence, the universality of a multiplicity
is typically divergent: the different realizations of a multiplicity bear no
resemblance whatsoever to it and there is in principle no end to the set of
potential divergent forms it may adopt. (Ibid.)
The Body and Differentiating Processes
1. This is of course completely different from classifying animals after static
resemblances, as DeLanda points out by using the example of Linnaeus
classification schemes:
This amounted to a translation of their visible features into linguistic
representation, a tabulation of differences and identities which allowed the
assignment of the individuals to an exact place in an ordered table. Judgments
o f analogy between the classes included in the table were used to generate
higher-order classes, and relations of opposition were established between
those classes to yield dichotomies or more elaborate hierarchical types. The
resulting biological taxonomies were supposed to reconstruct a natural order
which was fixed and continuous, regardless of the fact that historical accidents
may have broken that continuity. (Ibid., p. 38.)
2. Ibid., p. 16.

3. The concept of the body without organs should not only be seen as a body
plan, but also as the virtual continuum itself. This is how Deleuze and Guattari
use it in Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980).