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A Whiteheadian Chaosmos: Process Philosophy from a Deleuzean Perspective

by Tim Clark

Tim Clark teaches in the Department of Philosophy, Middlesex University. White Hart Lane, London N17 8HR, England. E-mail: T.X.Clark@mdx.ac.uk. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 179-194, Vol. 28, Number 3-4, Fall-Winter, 1999. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


I. Introduction

The philosophy of Gilles Deleuze is often classified, in the Anglophone world at least, under the heading "poststructuralist."1 While there may be some justification for this categorization, it nevertheless fails to capture the theoretical scope and philosophical ambition of what is perhaps the most important of Deleuze’s works: Difference and Repetition (1968). It would not be completely wide of the mark to categorize this work as an exercise in speculative cosmology, a process philosophy even. At any rate, Deleuze himself invites the comparison, referring to Process and Reality as "one of the greatest books of modern philosophy," and linking his own use of "descriptive notions" to that deployment of "empirico-ideal notions [which] we find in Whitehead" (cf. D&R 284). Although this essentially methodological affinity has been duly recorded and commented upon (most notably by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers2)there has, as yet, been no exploration of the extent to which Deleuze’s metaphysics parallels that of Whitehead in terms of its content -- the extent to which his own system of "descriptive notions" mirrors, departs from, or fractures, the categoreal scheme of Process and Reality.

While there are, of course, no straightforward one-to-one correspondences between the components of the two systems (there is, for instance, nothing obviously resembling an "actual entity" in the Deleuzean cosmology), there are nonetheless a number of ostensible conceptual affiliations. To pick out just three: that which Deleuze theorizes as "the virtual" bears a certain similarity to Whiteheadian pure potentiality; likewise, the elements of the virtual, namely, what Deleuze calls "Ideas," play a role comparable to that attributed to eternal objects; finally, the factor in the Deleuzean system which corresponds most closely to Whitehead’s notion of creativity -- that ultimate principle by which the production of novelty is to be thought -- goes, for Deleuze, under the name of "productive difference," or "Difference in itself?’

Rather than explore these various parallels directly, my immediate concern here will be to establish the essential difference between the Whiteheadian and the Deleuzean systems. Perhaps the quickest way to encapsulate that difference is as follows: while Process and Reality represents a systematic cosmology, Difference and Repetition develops a speculative "chaosmology" At its most simplistic, the distinction in play here is that between a cosmos in which order is imposed upon a primordial chaos "from outside," or transcendently, (as when Form is imposed upon matter by the Platonic demiurge, or harmony established a priori by the Leibnizean deity), and a chaosmos in which order is generated "from within," by a wholly immanent process of self-organization. In these very general terms, perhaps the closest approximation to a chaosmology amongst Whiteheadian thinkers is to be found in Donald Sherburne’s vision of "a Whitehead decentered. . . a Whitehead without God … a neo-Whiteheadian naturalism." From this perspective, as from Deleuze’s, "there is no one overarching center of value, meaning and order," rather, "patterns of meaning and order emerge gradually, fitfully, and unevenly from [a] churning multiplicity of value centers."3 Thus, or so it would seem, the term "chaosmology" is simply a fancy neologism for speculative naturalism -- for a cosmological system which lacks a God.

This simple picture, however, is more than a little complicated by the fact that Deleuze himself -- in his one and only sustained discussion of Whitehead’s philosophy (cf. TE 76-82) -- sketches out the possibility of a chaosmology within which Whitehead’s God would have a positive, indeed an essential, role to play. My aim in the present paper is twofold: first to argue, pro Sherburne and contra Deleuze’s reading, that there is no place for God -- even for Whitehead’s God -- in a "chaosmos" worthy of the name; but secondly, following Deleuze and departing from Sherburne, to outline one way in which the operation of "decentering Whitehead" might lead to somewhere other than to a naturalism. To this end, I shall focus almost exclusively upon a singular and sensitive point in the Whiteheadian system; namely, that moment at which "the barren inefficient disjunction of abstract potentialities" -- the disjunctive multiplicity of eternal objects -- "obtains efficient conjunction of ideal realization" within the primordial nature of God (cf. PR 40).

II. Deleuze’s Reading: A Question

In the following passage from The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, Deleuze sets out what he takes to be the key difference between the Leibnizian and the Whiteheadian cosmologies:

For Leibniz . . . bifurcations and divergencies of series are genuine borders between incompossible worlds, such that the monads that exist wholly include the compossible world that moves into existence. For Whitehead, on the contrary, bifurcations, divergences, incompossibilities, and discord belong to the same motley world that can no longer be included in expressive units, but only made or undone according to prehensive units and variable configurations. In a same chaotic world divergent series are endlessly tracing bifurcating paths. It is a "chaosmos". . . [in which] even God desists from being a Being who compares worlds and chooses the richest possible. He becomes Process, a process that at once affirms incompossibilities and passes them through." (TF 81)

This passage concludes Deleuze’s brief account of the difference between Leibnizian monads and Whiteheadian actual entities (or "prehensive units"). As he suggests, while it is true that

the two instances . . . have no windows, . . . for Leibniz, [this! is because the monad’s being-for the world is subject to a condition of closure, all compossible monads including a single and same world. For Whitehead, on the contrary, a condition of opening causes all prehension to be already the prehension of another prehension. . . . Prehension is naturally open, open to the world, without having to pass through a window. (TF 81)

My question to Deleuze is this: is the (undeniable) fact that Whitehead’s prehensive units are naturally open sufficient grounds for describing the Whiteheadian universe as a "chaosmos"? Might it not still be the case that, given his theology, his universe remains "semi-open and partially predictable" -- as George Kampis has suggested, in explicit contrast to the closed, predictable Leibnizian system on the one hand, and to the open, unpredictable, unfinished-in-every-dimension system of Bergson on the other?4 The answer to this question will depend (as Deleuze clearly recognizes), not simply upon an analysis of the nature of monadic units, but on confronting the issue at its most sensitive point, namely, with respect to the difference between the Leibnizian God who "compares and chooses," and the Whiteheadian God who "affirms incompossibles and passes them through."

In his comprehensive study of Whitehead’s metaphysics, William Christian offers an interpretation which prefigures that adopted by Deleuze. Like Deleuze, he recognizes that the crucial distinction lies between the Leibnizian and Whiteheadian conceptions of divinity:

Whitehead’s God, like Leibniz’, envisages all possible worlds. Unlike the God of Leibniz’ system, Whitehead’s God does not choose any of the possible worlds. Rather he values them all, even though they are not compossible. Thus . . . the function of his primordial nature is to hold the possible worlds together by his appetition for them all, so that all are relevant in one way or another, to any particular world which occurs in the course of nature. From the lack of a final and necessary order of eternal objects in the primordial nature of God it follows that there is no final order of nature." (IWM 276)

In other words, so Christian argues, the lack of a fixed, necessary or preformed order of potentiality logically follows from the principle that God affirms (or "values," to use Whitehead’s term) all incompossibles. But if this is the case what are we to make of those several passages in which Whitehead speaks variously of an "inevitable ordering of things, conceptually realized in the nature of God" (PR 244, italics added, or of "the eternal order which is the final absolute wisdom" (PR 347, italics added)? Indeed, Christian himself suggests that we understand the "fixed and necessary order" which appears in chapter ten of Science and the Modern World as "describing eternal objects as they exist in the primordial vision of God" (cf. IWM 259 and 262). Should we identify here a contradiction that vitiates the Whiteheadian system as a whole, or is it the case that a more careful reading of Whitehead’s theology is called for? The same question might be raised on the basis of Deleuze’s own remarks: In The Logic of Sense, he makes it quite clear that what he calls the "immanent consistency" of the chaosmos necessarily excludes the "coherence" traditionally supplied by a transcendent God (cf. LS 176). And yet, in his commentary on Whitehead, he seems to hold open the possibility of a chaosmos which would include a divine element. Again, if this is not a simple case of self-contradiction, does it suggest a reading of Whitehead’s theology which would render it compatible with a Deleuzean chaosmology? My attempt to resolve these issues will involve a detailed examination of Christian’s defense of Whitehead’s non-Leibnizian God, together with an interpretation of Deleuze’s highly paradoxical notion of "disjunctive synthesis."

III. Christian’s Reading: Some Criticisms

One significant point of agreement between Deleuze and Whitehead concerns their critique of Aristotelian systems of classification within which a concrete individual is conceived as being merely a member of a certain class or an instance of a certain kind. Christian formulates Whitehead’s view as follows:

. . . an individual is something more than a member of a species. The principle of classification is inadequate to account for real individuals. A principle of synthesis is needed. This principle is "creativity" . . . "that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively" (PR 21)." (IWM 251)

Insofar as the "many" refers to the disjunctive multiplicity of eternal objects it is not representable in terms of a logic of genera and species. The many of pure potentiality constitutes a multiplicity within which "there are no ultimate exclusions, expressive in logical terms," for the simple reason that "such exclusions are decided by the finitude of circumstance" (cf. MT 75–76). The error of the principle of classification lies in its tendency to posit an exclusiveness of pure potentials among themselves without recognizing that such incompatibilities are established through, or decided by, the negative prehensions which are constitutive of actual entities. Similarly from a Deleuzean perspective, the error of such classification lies in its failure to recognize that the exclusiveness of incompossibles is a feature unique to the actual, a feature for which there is no precedent in pure potentiality. As Deleuze puts it in The Logic of Sense "Would two events [pure potentials] be contradictory because they were incompatible? Is this not a case, though, of applying rules to events, which apply only to concepts, predicates and classes?" (LS 170). Rather, "incompatibility is born only with [the] individuals and worlds in which events [pure potentials] are actualized but not between events themselves" (LS 177, italics added).

Given the Whiteheadian doctrine that the exclusiveness of incompossibles is logically dependent upon the decisions made by actual entities, the question then becomes: what effect does the "initial decision" made by God, the ultimate actual entity, have upon the logical status of pure potentiality? There can be no doubt that God makes decisions a propos of the disjunctive multiplicity of eternal objects; the difficulty is to establish in precisely what sense these divine decisions are distinguishable from the choices and calculations made by the Leibnizian deity Whitehead’s dilemma seems to be this: on the one hand, the principle of classification is to be challenged by positing the primordiality of a world of eternal objects that knows "no exclusions, expressive in logical terms"; on the other hand, positing pure potentiality as a "boundless and unstructured infinity" (IWM 252) lacking all logical order would seem to be precisely that conceptual move which renders it "inefficacious" or "irrelevant." Over and above the "special relevance" which selected eternal objects may have in relation to particular, finite actual entities, it is necessary that there be a kind of "relevance in general," a real togetherness of all eternal objects amongst themselves, effected by an eternal, infinite actuality: "Transcendent decision includes God’s decision. He is the actual entity in virtue of which the entire multiplicity of eternal objects obtains its graded relevance to each stage of concrescence" (PR 164). The question is whether this transcendent decision necessarily involves that element of limitation and exclusion characteristic of decisions in general (cf. PR 164: "The limitation whereby there is a perspective relegation of eternal objects to the background is characteristic of decision"). Christian thinks not, and Deleuze appears to follow him.

Clearly, everything turns on the nature of "synthesis," i.e., on the precise manner m which incompossible potentials are "held together." Deleuze distinguishes between two kinds of synthesis: the conjunctive and the disjunctive; and within the latter he distinguishes between two uses of disjunction: an immanent use, at once inclusive, nonrestrictive and affirmative, and a transcendent use which is exclusive, limitative and negative (cf. LS 172 and 176). Following Leibniz, both Deleuze and Whitehead agree that the actualization of individuals and worlds is subject to a condition of conjunctive synthesis, conceived, in Deleuze’s terms, as "a method of constructing convergent series" (LS 174) or, in Whitehead’s terms, as "that principle by which the many (disjunctively)" become one (conjunctively)" (cf. PR 21). Nor would there be any disagreement over the fact that; once an actual world has been formed, limitation, opposition and negation become characteristic features of the world as actualized. But the whole question is to know whether such factors are also primary, or whether they are merely the secondary effects of an originary movement of "disjunctive synthesis," that is, a synthesis which somehow holds incompossibles together; but does so without limitation, opposition, or negation -- i.e., a synthesis of "total affirmation." It is in relation to this question that Deleuze’s distinction between the two uses of disjunction is most pertinent: if; as Whitehead at times suggests, principles of limitation, exclusion etc. are indeed operative in creating the conditions for the production of novelty, then the disjunction involved here cannot be "properly speaking a synthesis, but only a regulative analysis at the service of conjunctive synthesis, since it separates the nonconvergent [incompossible] series from one another" (LS 174). But if, as Deleuze insists, that factor he calls "difference in itself" creates the requisite conditions for novelty, then the disjunction involved will be a genuinely affirmative synthesis within which "divergence is no longer a principle of exclusion, and disjunction no longer a means of separation. Incompossibility is now a means of communication" (LS 175). Furthermore, as Deleuze goes on to make explicit, any attempt to introduce a principle of limitation into pure potentiality itself will require appeal to the "form of God [as] guarantee [of] disjunction in its exclusive or limitative sense" (LS 176). This is the truth Deleuze uncovers in Kant’s discussion of "The Ideal of Pure Reason" in the first Critique. In a manner which to some extent prefigures Whitehead’s own recasting of traditional theology (God, not as creator, but as the first accident of creativity), Kant’s God is here

at least provisionally, deprived of his traditional claims -- to have created subjects or made a world -- and now has what is but an apparently humble task, namely, to enact disjunctions, or at least to found them. . . . God is defined by the sum total of possibility, insofar as this sum constitutes an "originary" material. . . . The reality of each thing "is derived" from it: it rests in effect on the limitation of this totality." (LS 295-296)

It is precisely this God, along with his humble task, which are together excluded from the chaosmos theorized by Deleuze, and it is the very same deity which appears in Whitehead’s "first reference to the conception of God he will later elaborate and defend" (IWM 262). The task appointed to God in chapter eleven of Science and The Modern World is nothing more, and nothing less, than that of instituting "an antecedent limitation among values, introducing contraries, grades, and oppositions" into the totality of possibility (the realm of eternal objects): "Thus this first limitation is a limitation of antecedent selection" (SMW 221). Since the God who appears here is patently a reincarnation of Kant’s "master of the exclusive disjunction," it follows that any attempt to interpret the system of Process and Reality as representing a nascent chaosmology will have to demonstrate that the theology developed in the later work positively supersedes and excludes, rather than, as Christian claims, "elaborates and defends," the theology of the earlier. Christian does, however, present a strong case for an element of elaboration by showing how, between the two works, the realm of eternal objects ceases to be a realm in any meaningful sense, since they are no longer "related in any single fixed order" (IMW 277). His conclusions are presented as follows:

I suggest that the primordial nature of God orders eternal objects in the sense, and only in the sense, that in God’s envisagement eternal objects are together . . . God excludes no possibilities and for this very reason does not order possibilities, in the strong sense of "order" [i.e. fixed a priori] . . . Therefore it is truer to say that God envisages possibilities of order than that God envisages an order of possibilities." (IMW 276,277-278, italics added)

Two objections to this solution might be raised. First, given that the characteristic feature of decisions in general is limitation (following PR 164), Christian still has to make sense of Whitehead’s reference to the "transcendent decision of God" a propos of pure potentiality. Secondly, there is an element of near tautology affecting the formulation of the solution, specifically in the first sentence: "order," in its "weak" (non-Leibnizian) sense, is to be defined only in terms of "togetherness" (on this Deleuze could perhaps agree); but the difficult question is to know how togetherness (synthesis) is to be defined (since it can’t be defined in terms of "order" without collapsing into bare tautology) -- that is, to know precisely how incompossibles are held together through an analysis of the exact mechanism involved, and this Christian does not provide.

The first objection refers back to the question I raised above: precisely how does the transcendent decision of Whitehead’s God differ from the choice/selection made by Leibniz’s deity? Although he does not address this question explicitly, the rudiments of an answer are implicit in the passage from Christian cited earlier: "Unlike the God of Leibniz’s system, Whitehead’s God does not choose any of the possible worlds. Rather he values them all, even though they are not compossible" (IMW 276, italics added). Thus, if God’s transcendent decision refers only to this operation of evaluating incompossible worlds while refraining from selecting any one of them, then it does indeed make sense to speak here of a "decision" which is not yet a "choice." The question then arises as to whether this non-selective decision still involves any necessary element of limitation or restriction. Given that the decision is one of value the answer can only be yes, as Whitehead himself clearly recognized: "Restriction is the price of the value. There cannot be value without antecedent standards of value, to discriminate the acceptance or rejection of what is before the envisaging mode of activity. Thus there is an antecedent limitation among values, introducing contraries. . . [etc.]" (SMW 221). Prima facie, this would seem to be the end of the line for Christian’s argument in favor of a divine "total affirmation": Whitehead’s God holds incompossibles together, and excludes none, simply because he values them all; but if restriction and limitation are the conditions of value then it would appear that even here God is still required to enact, or at least to found, disjunctions which are not yet positively synthetic or wholly affirmative. The element of choice (or selection) may have been removed, but the element of comparison remains (standards of value implying comparisons of better and worse), and thus at least one aspect of the role Leibniz attributes to his God is still in operation.

Nonetheless, Christian can call upon some powerful evidence from the later work which would militate against this conclusion. Most notably, upon Whitehead’s remark that precisely "because it arises out of no actual world [the primordial nature] has within it no components which are standards of comparison" (PR 47). Clearly, the problem now becomes: how to square this claim with the earlier doctrine according to which God provides the necessary antecedent standards of value. Following Lewis Ford, there is an apparently simple solution: interpret the earlier passage in such a way that it does not (or at least not only?) refer to God, but rather (or also?) to the complex of relations an individual actual occasion has with past actual occasions and eternal objects (cf. EMW 116). Ford’s general and surely correct thesis is that between Science and the Modern World and Process and Reality there is a shift from monism to pluralism, a devolution of creative power from a Spinozistic substantial activity to the self-creating activity of actual occasions. It would then be wholly consistent for a similar shift to have taken place with regard to the sources of value. Nonetheless, even taking this devolution into account, the precise role that God plays in the process of evaluation remains unclear. Pace Donald Sherburne’s solution (viz. ditching God altogether, positing the multiplicity of actual entities as the only source of a plural "order, meaning and value"), one possible response might run as follows: in the primordial nature there are no general (fixed a priori) standards of value, there is only the capacity to offer "guidelines" relative to already individuated worlds, This, or something very like it, seems to be the solution implicitly adopted by Christian when he says of the primordial nature:

It is not a teleological arrangement of eternal objects into a single hierarchy. It is rather a matrix for those orderings effected by particular actual occasions m the course of nature. ... Any particular ordering of divine appetitions in God is relative to a particular instance of becoming. . . . In the primordial nature, taken in abstraction from acts of becoming . . . eternal objects have togetherness but not gradations of importance." (IWM 274,275, italics added)

This certainly gets rid of the last remaining element of divine limitation, but at what cost? If it is true that God can find within himself no standards of comparison, then his capacity to evaluate becomes wholly parasitic upon actual worlds, and Sherburne’s naturalism beckons. But the most immediate problem here is that raised by our second objection to Christian’s solution: specifying precisely how incompossibles are held together. If the requisite disjunctive synthesis cannot be explained by appeal to the doctrine that God values all possible worlds, this is not so much because evaluation is logically dependent upon gradations of importance, but because (accepting Christian’s explanation of the absence of such gradations in the primordial nature) the logic of the doctrine itself entails that God be inextricably involved in the formation of actual worlds as "circles of convergence," i.e., in "the orderings effected by individuals in the course of nature." And thus, at least with regard to the process of evaluation, God is always already functioning at the service of conjunctive synthesis, i.e., providing "guidelines" with a well-meaning regard for what is actually compossible.

The very best evidence Christian has for his interpretation -- namely, that "God’s . . . conceptual experience is . . . limited by no actuality that it presupposes. It is therefore infinite, devoid of all negative prehensions" (PR 345, italics added) -- remains subject to a similar qualification: all negativity may have been removed, de jure, from the primordial nature, but is this enough? If stripped of all technical connotations, we can take the term "prehension" to mean simply "holding," then the phrase "infinite, non-negative prehension" informs us only that nothing is "held negatively" -- that is, nothing is effectively excluded or "relegated to the background" -- but this still does not explain precisely how everything is positively "held together." In short, removing the element of limitation/negation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the theorization of disjunctive synthesis.

If the concept of evaluation is, at least on the argument presented above, inadequate to the problem, are there any other viable alternatives? Christian makes use of two other terms which are themselves virtual synonyms: "entertainment" and "envisagement": incompossibles are held together simply because they are all entertained or envisaged within the primordial nature. One immediate (and seemingly intractable) problem arises: even Leibniz’s God "envisages all possible worlds" (IMW 276). But the main problem here is the more general problem of vagueness or imprecision. Once again, the only definite content registered by these concepts is that the operation involved is distinct from that of conjunctive synthesis. As Lewis Ford puts it "Since to envisage means to confront, face, what is envisaged is that which the occasion has before it to synthesize. To envisage is not to [conjunctively] synthesize, to bring into prehensive unity, but to entertain as an ingredient for such prehension" (EWM 110). Even so, in deploying the "envisage" or "entertain," nothing definite is said about the non-conjunctive mechanism involved in the primordial act of holding-together-without-bringing-into-overarching-unity. Perhaps the reason these terms remain vague, virtually empty, or at least "unpacked," is that within the system as a whole they are absolutely primitive. (All that Whitehead says in defense of the term "envisagement" is that it is better than certain other alternatives. e.g. "intuition" or "vision" [cf. PR 33-34]). It is perhaps at this point that a fundamental overhaul of the system begins to look both attractive and necessary: to begin again, addressing the same problems, but with different primitives.

IV. A Deleuzean Alternative to Deleuze’s Reading

If as I have tried to show, the Whiteheadian God is not entirely adequate to the ultimate role required of God, is this the cue for developing a wholly naturalist cosmology which excludes, in principle, all traces of the divine? Not quite, at least not so far as Deleuze is concerned. While for him, as for Whitehead, the Spinozist option remains overly monistic (in one way or another, Spinozism must be "pluralized"), it is nevertheless possible to discern, in provisional outline, what a "Deleuzean" deity would look like on a monotheistic model. To fulfil the role ascribed to God, to perform the requisite function of total affirmation, Whitehead’s God would have be profoundly schizoid, in the precise sense set out in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-0edipus:

The schizophrenic . . . does not substitute syntheses of contradictory elements for disjunctive syntheses; rather, for the exclusive and restrictive use of the disjunctive synthesis, he substitutes an affirmative use. He is and remains in disjunction: he does not abolish disjunction . . . instead he affirms it through a continuous overflight spanning an indivisible distance" (AO 76)

Ripped out of its context, the phrase "continuous overflight" can be read as functionally equivalent to Whiteheadian "envisagement" incompossibles are held together, the affirmation is effected, "through a continuous overflight. . ." The term is, no doubt, just as vague and uninformative as its Whiteheadian counterpart; nonetheless, any attempt to construct a Deleuzean theology would have to begin by substituting the disjunctive syntheses of a divine "schizo" for the disjunctive analyses of that primordial rational Being in whose "very nature it stands to divide Good from Evil", and to establish Reason "within her dominions supreme,"’ as Whitehead so unequivocally puts it (SMW 223). Such a substitution forms the first principle of "the new critique of Reason" that Deleuze discerns in the work of Pierre Klossowski:

"The schizophrenic God has so little to do with the God of religion, even though they are related to the same syllogism. In Le Baphomet Klossowski contrasts God as master of the exclusions and restrictions of the disjunctive syllogism, with an antichrist who is the prince of modifications, determining instead the passage of a subject through all possible predicates." (AO 77)

The same point appears in The Logic of Sense as follows: "disjunction posed as a synthesis exchanges its theological principle for a diabolic principle," ensuring that "instead of certain number of predicates being excluded from a thing in virtue of the identity of its concept, each ‘thing’ opens itself up to the infinity of predicates through which it passes, as it loses its center, that is, its identity as concept or as self" (LS 176 and 174). While these comments are clearly posed against Leibniz, the point can be restated in Whiteheadian terms simply by substituting "actual entity" for Deleuze’s "thing," and then calling upon Whitehead’s cosmological theory of propositions in which actual entities form the "logical subjects" and eternal objects the "predicates" (cf. PR 186). This puts us in a position to assess Deleuze’s specific claims concerning Whitehead’s system, namely that it theorizes "a world of captures rather than closures," a chaosmos in which "beings [actual entities] are pushed apart, kept open through divergent series and incompossible totalities that pull them outside, instead of being closed upon the compossible and convergent world that they express from within" (TF 81). To my knowledge, the best approximation to this view is once again to be found in Christian, insofar as what basis there is for Deleuze’s interpretation would have to rest on the following principle: "To say that there is a general scheme of relatedness among eternal objects is only to say that all relations are possible. If some certain eternal object were actualized [for a particular actual entity], then all other eternal objects would be relevant in some way or other [to that entity]" (IMW 274). Now to say that, in principle, and a propos of the logical subjects of the system, all relations are possible and all eternal objects relevant, is almost to say that Whiteheadian subject-units are "pulled outside," "decentered," kept open to the infinity of predicates through which they (virtually) pass. But the telling question is: what is Whitehead’s one explanation of how this is possible? "His ultimate explanation is that each factual entity] in its initial phase prehends God," as it must do, because only through the mediation of the divine nature is there an "envisagement of the entire multiplicity of eternal objects" (cf. IMW 269). But if, as I have argued at length, Whitehead’s all-envisaging God is incapable of performing the strange kind of synthesis required, then the God who appears in The Fold as "affirming incompossibles and passing them through" must be precisely Deleuze’s own: the Divine Schizophrenic. And it is this God who consistently fails to appear in Process and Reality, other than as a negative or a kind of after-image. (Except once, in a mythic aside: Whitehead cites from Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II, and then adds: "the fact of Satan’s journey through chaos helped to evolve order; for he left a permanent track, useful for the devils and the damned" [PR 96]. In Klossowski’s terms: a track left by the "prince of all modifications," first servant of the inclusive disjunction). On this basis then, I would suggest that -- on his own terms -- we must rule out Deleuze’s sketch of a specifically Whiteheadian chaosmology, and conclude that within Whitehead’s system the universe remains, in principle, semi-open and partially predictable. Of course Deleuze is correct to say that by contrast with the monads Whiteheadian subject-units are radically open. But the system as a whole remains subject to an "initial condition" which Deleuze himself consistently demands be excluded.

But what are we to make of Deleuze’s own account of how the requisite synthesis of pure potentiality comes about? Is he seriously suggesting that for the "God of religion" we substitute an equally primordial (and mythic) Divine Schizophrenic, an "Antichrist," Satan himself? No such supremely individuated Being appears in the system of Difference and Repetition; in fact, any form of monotheism is ruled out in principle by the operation referred to above as "pluralizing Spinozism." Nonetheless, as I suggested earlier, Deleuze’s anti-theism by no means leads us straight to a naturalism, for while it certainly ensures that pure potentiality is not to be identified with God, it nonetheless maintains that "the energy sweeping through it is divine. . . . Hence the sole thing that is divine is the nature of an energy of disjunctions" (AO 13). But, to put to Deleuze the question we posed to Christian: what precisely is this nature? -- what is the precise mechanism involved in this "disjunctive" synthesis? In fact, as will become all too clear, Deleuze’s response to this problem is often no less vague, obscure, at times near tautologous, than Whitehead’s own. Here is how Deleuze faces up to it:

The most important difficulty, however, remains: is it really difference which relates different to different in these intensive [purely potential] systems?. . . When we speak of communication between heterogeneous [incompossible] systems . . . does this not imply . . . an agent which brings about the communication?. . . what is this agent, this force? Thunderbolts explode between different intensities, but they are preceded by an invisible, imperceptible dark precursor, which determines their path in advance but in reverse, as though intagliated. . ." (D&R 119)

I am not sure that it is possible to "explicate" this impenetrably dark notion of the "dark precursor." Suffice it to say, "it" is that element which functions as the agent of communication between incompossibles, as the immanent operator of disjunctive synthesis. Almost immediately, Deleuze poses the crucial problem for himself: "The question is to know in any given case how the precursor fulfils this role" (D&R 119, italics added). A few lines later, the semblance of an answer is offered:

Given two heterogeneous series, two series of differences [incompossible potentials], the precursor plays the part of the differenciator [sic] of these differences. In this manner, by virtue of its own power, it puts them into immediate relation to one another it is the in-itself of difference or the "differently different" -- in other words, difference in the second degree, the self-different which relates different to different by itself." (D&R 119)

One might, not unreasonably, object to this formulation, pointing out that in order to deal with the problem Deleuze has here reverted to a tortuous syntax that could fairly be described as Hegelian dialectic "with one term missing" -- in other words, that by making his primitive concept of difference do all the work, the inevitable result is mere vacuous repetition, empty tautology. It is indeed at this point that Deleuze, self-confessed, attempts to think something "contrary to the laws of thought" (D&R 227), and thereby risks that lapse into vacuity for which Kant condemned all of metaphysics. But the lines that immediately follow attempt to explain why -- at least within the terms of the Deleuzean chaosmos itself -- this moment of attempting to "think the unthinkable" is, at the limit, ineliminable:

Because the path it [the dark precursor] follows is invisible and becomes visible only in reverse, to the extent that it is traveled over and covered by the phenomena it induces within the system [i.e., within an actual world], it has no place other than that from which it is "missing," no identity other than that which it lacks: it is precisely the object = x." (D&R 119-120)

Thus Deleuze presents his speculative, and distinctly Platonic, hypothesis: the visible, actual world is an effect of this invisible "reversion" of the potential, the infinitely rich sediment it leaves in its track. As the object = x, the (path of the) dark precursor is that virtually unintelligible object which corresponds to the thought of difference "in itself." Necessarily unintelligible insofar as the very conditions for the production of novelty (viz. disjunctive syntheses of incompossibles) entail that intensive (potential) differences will always already be cancelled within the novel extensities and qualities in which they are actualized -- (through the conjunctive syntheses of compossibles; in Whitehead’s terms: through a demand for "balanced complexity" -- the integration of incompatibilities into realizable contrasts, cf. PR 278). As such, the object = x is inevitably occulted by the forms of representation (categories, concepts and laws) under which the actual, extensive, contrasting "phenomena" are thinkable, and by which their behavior is explained. Thus, Deleuze concludes, "it is not surprising that, strictly speaking, difference ["in itself"] should be "inexplicable.". . For difference, to be explicated [actualized] is to be cancelled. . ." (D&R 228).

This much at least can be said about the nature of the dark precursor: in its role as agent of synthesis it is not, like the primordial nature of God, One: "given the variety among systems, this role [must be] fulfilled by quite diverse determinations" (D&R 119). It is possible to discern in this principle not only a pluralizing of Spinozism (or perhaps a modest homage to Hume: why not a whole team of gods?), but also an implicit answer to Plato when, in the Sophist, he raises the question of synthesis/analysis a propos of the Forms (or "genera"):

Now since we have agreed that the classes or genera also commingle with one another, or do not commingle, in the same way must he not possess some science and proceed by the processes of reason [he] who is to show... whether there are some elements extending through all and holding them together so that they can mingle, and again, when they separate., whether there are other universal causes of separation."5

In other words, as Whitehead notes, for Plato "determinations of incompatibilities and incompatibilities are the key to coherent thought" (AI 147). If Deleuze’s thought of the difference-which-relates-different-to-different is not "coherent," it is because its "objects" are precisely those elements which run through the incompossible series simultaneously effecting both a holding together (synthesis) and a holding apart (disjunction); thus it is one and the same "universal cause" in each case: "The affirmative synthetic disjunction . . . consists of the erection of a paradoxical instance, an aleatory point with two uneven faces, which traverses the divergent series as divergent and causes them to resonate through their distance and in their distance" (LS 174, italics added). "Paradoxical instances," "aleatory points," "dark precursors": these, I would suggest, are the only divine elements in the Deleuzean chaosmos, "primitives" in both a methodological and metaphysical sense: "savage concepts" apparently resonating ‘with "things in their wild and free [not yet actualized] state" (cf. D&R xx).

V. Conclusion

For Deleuze then, the sole thing that matters is the chaosmological function instantiated/exemplified by his various primitives. As such, in the Deleuzean chaosmos, many factors (many features of God and of his various roles, both traditional and Whiteheadian) putatively necessary for the production of novelty are eliminated. To deal with these in turn: first, no supreme individual or being is required to perform the function, only "individuating acts" (multiple synthesizing agents, lacking an identity, always missing) distributed within an impersonal and pre-individual field of pure potentiality. And ruled out categorically is any infinite Being "existing for its own sake" (cf. PR 88), but entrusted with the benign function of "federating" differences between finite beings and worlds. Secondly, it is no longer the case that "multiplicity requires that any unity it may have be established for it by some outside agency";6 it requires only a "mobile, immanent principle of auto-unification" (LS 102) through disjunctive synthesis. Thirdly, the chaosmos need not "include a stable actuality whose mutual implication with the remainder of the things secures an inevitable trend towards order" (AI 115); rather the "system, is neither stable nor unstable, but "metastable," endowed with a potential energy [the so-called divine "energy of disjunctions"] wherein the differences between series are distributed" (LS 103). Finally, no element of consciousness can enter into the initial conditions for the production of novelty. This is a factor that Whitehead himself explicitly though obscurely, recognizes: towards the end of Process and Reality the primordial nature is described in the following terms: "free, complete, eternal, actually deficient, and unconscious" (PR 345). And just as the primordial nature knows no negative prehensions, so too with the Deleuzean notion of the "virtual" as a kind of cosmic unconscious: "The phenomena of the unconscious cannot be understood in the overly simple form of opposition and conflict. . . conflicts are the result of more subtle differential mechanisms. . . . The negative expresses only within consciousness the shadow of fundamentally unconscious questions and problems" (D&R 106).

Were such consequences to be accepted, then a process metaphysics could indeed dispense with Whitehead’s God, although not with that singular function of "total affirmation" which Whitehead -- the weight of ontotheological tradition bearing down upon him -- valiantly attempts to grant Him. However, as I have tried to show, while in Deleuze’s metaphysics we find something like Whiteheadian pure potentiality reappearing in a radically decentered form, the net result is less a neo-Whiteheadian naturalism than a distinctly postmodern avatar of polytheism: a vision of multiple "little divinities" effecting random syntheses of differential elements within an immanent space of possibilities: a theory of evolution metamorphosed into Chaosmological Myth: an unqualified affirmation of the endless, goalless, production of Difference. As it was with Nietzsche, so it is with the pagan Deleuze.7

 

Notes

1. I am grateful to Isabelle Stengers and to a second, anonymous, referee for their helpful and encouraging comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Stengers rightly objects to the classification of Deleuze as a "post-structuralist," on the grounds that this heading is an American importation of no interest for the French who were reading Deleuze since before 1968, and who recognized him as a "master," meaning deserving of a heading by himself. This is undoubtedly correct. The Anglo-American label may however, be put to a legitimate, if rather specific, use -- namely, in the context of a selective reading of Deleuze’s works from the late sixties (D&R and LS), and taking the logico-mathematical model of structuralism (developed by the Bourbaki school and taken up by Piaget) as the reference point, rather than the more familiar, but rather different, model derived from Saussurean linguistics. For an attempt at such a revisionist reading, see my essay "Deleuze and Structuralism," in Deleuze and Philosophy, edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson (London: Routledge, 1997).

2. Cf. Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, La nouvelle alliance, Paris: Gallimard, 1979. especially 387-389. See also Stengers’ paper, "Entre Deleuze et Whitehead," in Gilles Deleuze: une vie philosophique, edited by Eric Alliez (Paris: Les empecheurs de penser en rond, 1998), 325-332.

3. Donald Sherburne, "Decentering Whitehead," Process Studies 15 (1986). 83, 92.

4. Cf. George Kampis, Self-Modifying Systems in Biology and Cognitive Science (Oxford, Pergamon Press. 1991), 462.

5. Sophist 252D, 253. Cited by Whitehead (brackets and italics his), ESP 129.

6. Granville C. Henry, Forms of Concrescence (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1993), 120.

7. On Deleuze’s understanding of evolution cf. D&R, Chapter V, passim e.g., page 248: "Natural selection. . . shows how differences become connected to one another and accumulate in a given direction, but also how they tend to diverge further and further in different or even opposed directions. Natural selection plays an essential role: the differentiation of difference" -- i.e., the role of a dark precursor for the actual "origin of species." On Deleuze’s Nietzschean mythologizing, cf. D&R. passim. As a representative passage: ‘The eternal return does not cause the same and the similar to return, but is... the consequence of a difference which is originary, pure, synthetic and in-itself (which Nietzsche called will to power). If difference is the in-itself then repetition in the eternal return is the for-itself of difference" (D&R 125). Finally, for a different perspective on a similar connection, I am grateful to Isabelle Stengers for drawing my attention to the quasi-Nietzschean flavor of God’s insatiable "appetition for new contrasts" -- a pathos especially noticeable when a difference arrives (as it does most days) between ‘what He cares for and my own craving for being cared for." Had I been able to pursue (amongst others) this intriguing observation, the paper would no doubt have had a different, less oppositional, and therefore, perhaps, now productive "feel."

 

References

AO Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane. London: The Athlone Press, 1984. French edition: L’Anti-Oedipe Paris: Minuit, 1972.

D&R Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. London: The Athlone Press, 1994. French edition: Difference et repetition. Paris PUF, 1968.

EWD Lewis Ford, The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics 1925-1929. Albany State University of New York Press, 1984.

F Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibnitz and the Baroque. Translated by Tom Conley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. French edition: Le Ph: Leibniz et le Baroque. Paris: Minuit, 1988.

IWM William Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.

LS Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense. Translated by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. Edited by Constantin Boundas. London: The Athlone Press, 1990. French edition: Logique du sens. Paris: Minuit, 1969.


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