I recently read Deleuze’s Philosophical Lineage, which provides brief but informative introductions to Deleuze’s connection to and use of other thinkers from a variety of disciplines. There are philosophical mainstays (e.g. Plato and Heidegger), figures to whom Deleuze has devoted entire books (e.g. Leibniz and Kant), those he considers and ally (e.g. Bergson), those he considers an enemy (e.g. Hegel), those who are well known but read against the grain, so to speak, in Deleuze’s work (e.g. Marx and Freud) and those who had fallen out of fashion until they were resuscitated by Deleuze (e.g. Tarde and Simondon). There are also some conspicuously absent figures, such as Spinoza and Nietzsche, to whom Deleuze devoted two books each, constituting significant parts of his counter-history of philosophy, and who are essential references and allies in his work.
The editors, Graham Jones and Jon Roffe, justify this exclusion by suggesting these two figures are relatively less important to Deleuze’s work than many commentators, and even Deleuze himself, imply. I would argue that essays on these two thinkers could address this issue in better fashion and make a more convincing argument for their demotion. Nevertheless, the strength of the editors’ contribution is in their attempt to offer a means for orienting people from different fields to Deleuze, and especially in offering a means of extending and even challenging Deleuze’s work and his readings of these figures at a time when Deleuze’s popularity and ubiquity risk codifying him as an individual at the expense of the subtleties of his arguments and the significance of the issues on which he wrote.
Each of the chapters is useful in its own way, but I found the chapter on Whitehead (282-299), available separately as a pdf, most informative because Whitehead, despite ostensible parallels to Deleuze, receives scant attention in the latter’s published work. James Williams outlines the connection between Deleuze and Whitehead by focusing on the “What is an Event?” chapter from The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, as well as the lectures during which that book was developed and the subsequent connections drawn between Deleuze and Whitehead, most notably by Isabelle Stengers. Williams covers a lot of issues related to the event that can be, and in many cases, need to be further developed. Rereading and challenging Deleuze via Whitehead provides a productive avenue for doing so.
“What is an Event?” as Williams notes, is one of the very few places where Deleuze addresses Whitehead’s contribution and connection to his own work directly. Most important, it is through Whitehead (along with Leibniz) that Deleuze most concisely (and in an incredibly dense fashion) defines the event. According to James, within that single chapter Deleuze addresses seven problematic and perennial issues:
The problem is the coming together of the following questions:
1. If events occur in infinitely connected series, which themselves subdivide infinitely, does this not commit you to a grounding chaos resisting all sense and order?
2. If there are manifold events, how do these relate to one another without allowing us to break them into final components, and thereby contradicting their infinite divisibility and interconnections?
3. How are different series of events distinguished from one another, if there is not a single chain of events?
4. If there are novel events, or if there is novelty in each event, under what conditions can this take place and what is this novelty like?
5. How can we distinguish between positive or good events and negative and evil ones, if all series of events are connected and if there is no external measure to judge them by?
6. Does this philosophy of events commit you to becoming without being, or to process without permanence? If it does not, where is the permanence in your structures?
7. If there are different series of events, are these related or are they radically different? If they are related, why can’t they be reduced to one series? If they are not related, can they ever be said to be in touch in any way or to belong to the same universe? (285)
Williams’ argument is that a theory of the event is essential to Deleuze’s enterprise and moreover must account for the primacy of the event over and above the things to which they happen. What is at stake here in the essay, as well as the chapter from The Fold and for so-called process philosophy in general, are perennial questions regarding the beginning and end of the event, its participants, from whose/which perspective an event is to be conceptualized, what actual and potential occurrences constitute the event, etc.
Williams points out that the first question is answered in The Fold (p. 104), where Deleuze, employing Whitehead, contends that the virtual is not to be conceived as pure chaos from which events (or actual occasions, as Whitehead calls them) emerge. The virtual is a differential process, a power to differ in itself. In Process and Reality, Whitehead seems to suggest that the virtual and actual are not actually two separate realms or concepts. Each one is inextricably linked to and caught up in the other or rather that they are two facets of the same concept. The implications here are significant: the actual and virtual are always already part of this world, immanent to it.
Williams does not devote a lot of attention to distinguishing Deleuze from Whitehead, but this previous point is one that I have found clearer in Whitehead and less so in Deleuze. The virtual only makes sense via actual occasions, not as a transcendental sphere separated from this world. Whitehead develops this point further than Deleuze, who leaves himself open to criticism that he takes continual recourse to a transcendent or mystical realm (cf. Badiou’s Clamour of Being).
The second and third questions are also answered in “What is an Event?” Like chaos, discrete entities for Deleuze (and Whitehead and Leibniz) are false but necessary abstractions. False because they can occlude the virtual whole of which they are a part and to which they are linked. Necessary because it is only at the level of the set or part that we can operate within a material and quotidian level.
Williams does not provide an example, but we can easily restage a Bergsonian example. The color orange (to use a Bergsonian example) can be separated and studied as possessing certain qualities, but as we progress along the spectrum the color orange is revealed as having gradients with no clear separation and which eventually give way to yellow on one side and red on the other. As such, the process of attention and selection (with which Bergson continually addresses as does Jonathan Crary in The Suspension of Perception) becomes important. The event as virtual is continuous, extensive and without limit. However, the manner in which we address the event is delimited through what Whitehead calls prehensions, our concrete concepts and feelings. We prehend events, as do all objects and organisms involved. As Williams writes, “Events are therefore extended patterns and sets of individual concrescences (nexũs) which themselves have public and private sides” (287). That is, events involve a potentially unlimited amount of entities, human and non-human alike, but take on specific meaning for us.
Williams addresses the final four questions, devoting the most attention to the question of novelty, a perennial concern for Deleuze. Novelty, the new or the Outside becomes significant both for defining individuation and for assigning value. the question of which is linked in Deleuze to novelty. As Williams writes, “It is better to increase the potential for novelty than to decrease it, because this is the source of greater enjoyment and lesser evil in the relations of individuals in societies or nexūs” (287-8).
As Williams notes, Deleuze’s treatment of Whitehead is sketchy at best. It raises more questions than it answers. Deleuze via Whitehead provides a theory of the event as excess, but its development, defense and extension into disciplinary-specific actual occasions, especially architecture, requires a great deal more work.
Williams devotes the rest of the essay to the Leibniz/Whitehead lectures from the late ‘80s, as well as more recent considerations of Whitehead by Deleuzian scholars. The outline of Deleuze’s lectures hints at a Deleuze much different from the one who emerges through his books. The Deleuze from lectures devotes more attention to the development of ideas, concrete examples and acknowledges problematic spots. He addresses issues of which he is not sure or which are still being worked through, and he does so as an interlocutor rather than a master.
Williams also considers Isabelle Stengers’ contribution to the lectures (she was in the audience) and her book on Whitehead, Penser avec Whitehead (which has not been translated into English). A footnote also references an online essay from Steve Shaviro, which can be accessed here, but which is now part of Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze and Aesthetics, which is well worth a read.
According to Williams, the new, the novel develops through a relation between eternal objects and actual occasions, two of Whitehead’s concepts from Process and Reality. Williams writes:
In short, the actual occasion is always a novelty beyond its conditions, to the point where these cannot be traced within it as that which it derives from. A novel creation brings such a degree of novelty to the processes it flows from that their relations are changed to the point where it does not make sense to say that the initial relations are components of the latter novelty. Though a series of ideas and past actual occasions leads into a new one, and can be described as such, the novelty can never be accounted for in terms of its sources (291-2).
That is, the event evades linear logic and does more to elucidate process and individuation than function and origin. This would seem to be one of the most important lessons to extend into architecture.
Williams also focuses on Whitehead’s secularization of God and Stengers’ defense of this concept. He writes that “God is necessary to connect novelty in any actual occasion to the eternal objects it springs forth with, without reducing one to the other, yet giving well-determined principles for explaining their reciprocal relations” (293). Eternal objects and actual occasions are means for further exploring (though not without important distinctions from) the virtual and actual in Deleuze’s work. Williams (partially via Stengers) implies that the answer to the seven questions above can be developed through these concepts, to which novelty and value, permanence and perishing, difference and relations are linked.
Williams’ concluding remarks reveal what is at stake. He is both aware of one of the primary (and often, I believe, valid) criticisms of Deleuze’s work, while at the same time offering Whitehead in connection with Deleuze as a potential means to work through the issues. He writes:
If we are to counter the claim that Deleuze and Whitehead’s metaphysical creativity turns away from more grounded and commonsensical truths – and their capacity to align with demystification – then general claims about process philosophy, or superior empiricism, or transcendental metaphysics will do little to advance a case for the defence. In many eyes it will merely bring down a negative judgement all the quicker. However, if we use the vast resource of concepts, arguments, examples and studies they both provide. And if we use these rigorously and with precision to show contrasting yet related lines of argument and emerging useful and interesting ideas, none of which contribute to mystification, but on the contrary serve multiple critical arguments. Then the Deleuze and Whitehead connection will have worked on their own terms, not in the establishment of a school, but rather in prompting critical evaluations of what we take to be common sense, or ostensible matters of fact, or common ideas (296).