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DeLanda on Deleuze

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Jon Lindblom

Introduction

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

2

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

3

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

4

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,

5

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

organism.2

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

singularities.

Notes

Introduction

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.

8

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).

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