Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Eternal Return

As per Deleuze's advice I'm beginning Difference and Repetition with the conclusion. His exposition of the eternal return (pp. 297 ff.) confounds me because the idea conflicts with some of my basic beliefs, and yet if I examine my beliefs they appear to be contradictory, and perhaps not well suited to the problem of repetition.

In the first place I believe in mortality. Everything that lives also dies, everything that appears also vanishes, everything that goes also stops. I believe this is the way of all things. Everything is finite. I understand that some people don't believe that everything is finite, but as long as a person believes that some things are finite they will be in pretty much the same boat as I am, or at the very least have some way of understanding my predicament. The belief in mortality is hardly exceptional.

I wouldn't necessarily want to believe in eternity; however, my belief in the finality of death entails a notion of eternity. To be dead is to be dead for all time. Preliminarily, there are two ways in which my thinking about eternity diverges from Nietzsche's. Firstly, I don't believe the past is eternal. The Universe and time as we know it has a beginning (about 13.7 billion years ago), and every event that can be verifiably described as an event has taken place within this finite stretch of time since the event of the Universe's inception. Secondly, I am not sure about whether anything like eternity converges in the present moment. The notion of eternity that I must have to have in order to believe in the finality of death is not the kind of thing that can be experienced or that pertains to experience directly. There is no real merger of the present moment into the eternal, but rather a sharp division between two different kinds of temporality: one that is of experience, the other that is purely an abstraction.

Perhaps I jumped to quickly from finality to eternity. When I consider the ultimate fate of the Universe, and ponder that heat death is the most likely hypothesis (be sure to see Dylan Trigg's The Duration of Twilight), it occurs to me that the future too, time as we know it, is finite. What sense does it make then to say that time will cease to exist for all eternity? And yet isn't this exactly what the heat death of the Universe means? It seems as if I want to hold onto a notion of time that exceeds time itself. This can't be completely rational.

Surely there must be a way of thinking mortality that doesn't involve irrational thinking about time. Once I open the door to doubting the eternity of death, however, eternal recurrence, among others, is allowed to slip in. I simply don't know how long death lasts, if it lasts at all. Against these doubts, I could cling to the finitude of existence, relegating infinitude to nonexistence, but I wonder whether this wouldn't represent a failure to think about what I really believe about mortality.

Finally, given my belief in the finitude of all things, I wonder how repetition is possible. Here I am hoping that Deleuze is wrong in suggesting that the conclusions make reading the rest of his book unnecessary (p. xv). I am looking to this book to get some purchase on the possibility of repetition, and also the problem of how to think repetition as such.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by Fido the Yak at 11:06 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Conclusion: Death is a biological fact, personal existence is not.

The ultimate gift of conscious life is a sense of the mystery that encompasses it, as Lewis Munford once wrote. As far as the determination of cadacualtez impedes natural sciences from describing the encountered reality as any single set of fundamental facts transformed upon any single set of fundamental regularities, natural science has recovered such a sense of the mystery that encompasses conscious life: for what it is existentially worth and, also, as a tool to modify the world – which natural science always proclaimed as its ultimate goal. What are the latest developments? One could receive transplants replacing the entire body; in fact, it already happens naturally, as metabolism substitutes our bodily components. Not a transplant substituting one’s agential and biographic past once it became apprehended and so, exclusively available for one’s attentional reclustering. By such active spontaneity, sensing semoviences in nature differ from any machine of fixed structure or state-determined system, and insert their innovations in the environment." (Mario Crocco

Minds (as semovient existentialities) don't emerge from brains and ipso facto don't necessarily 'die' when their biological substrate dies.
This is complicated by the fact that not all living beings are 'mindful'. Trees or barrier reefs do not have postmortal existence - persons can.

This is not a deleuzian response to your reaction to D. - just me rambling...

February 02, 2007 1:29 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Semovient existentialities don't belong to the same order of things as mortality? I can wrap my mind around it, but I'm not sure I agree.

I've been putting off real comment on Deleuze because it's so difficult. (I'm now in the midst of difference as such and the discussion of the univocity of being.) He says "eternal return is the univocity of being" (p. 41). Hmm. So Deleuze is presenting an ontology of repetition, I guess. I don't know why Nietzsche's idea is necessary here, or why I should even think of buying it, or why in general Deleuze's thinking takes us through the theatre of the will to power.

I note that Deleuze says several times "if repetition is possible..." If eternal return is the only way Deleuze can imagine the possibility of repetition, it's going to be a struggle for me.

Yusef's hangup with analogy has me thinking. What are the implications of saying being with one voice? That there is no use in analogy, or representation? I think this is too much of a claim for ontology. What are your thoughts on that?

February 02, 2007 3:39 PM  
Blogger razorsmile said...

I was talking the other day (with someone else who attends the Volcanic Lines seminar I help organise) about the notion of a radical finitude and I think it's the 'radical' nature of finitude that is strange. I tend to agree with your take on the finite but as you yourself note, this has peculiar and immediate paradoxes when we begin to say things like 'to be finite is to accept being dead for eternity'. Instead we somehow have to conceive the finite as a radical depth, such that the finite is always, to that extent, beyond comprehension, there will always be a distinct/obscure aspect to it (the 'dionysian', as the distinct/obscure is thought in DR). This precludes a simple notion of 'finite' as 'actual' and instead, following Deleuze, involves some attempt to think the virtual conditions of actual finitude. It will be in this realm of the virtual that things will become strange...

Regarding eternal return, I think this is possibly a thought of radical finitude. It has to be remembered that it is a thought experiment, after all - though there is some debate around the extent to which Nietzsche saw it as a 'scientific' doctrine which would go against the 'thought experiment' interpretation to some extent). The idea of ER is that to affirm life is to affirm it in its full depth and the thought of ER is a test of whether you can affirm such a thing, whether you can affirm your action whilst conceiving of it returning eternally. Eternity here stands for this idea of radical finitude, it involves taking the thought to its limit, pushing it until it begins to twist in our minds into something horrific and overwhelming - and then testing ourselves as to whether we can sustain such a though. Only if we can are we said to be truly affirmative...

Finally, the univocity notion doesn't get rid of analogy or representation, but relegates them to being incapable of thinking ontologically. Univocity makes the being in 'being' and 'non-being' be said in the same sense, destroying some preconceived sense of a radical split between the two, then forcing us to conceive or the difference positively and affirmatively rather than negatively. It's still a strange though though and one I've just spent some time with in my MA seminar on 'Difference and Repetiton' - there's various notes on reading DR going up on my blog and there's also a very useful reading outline over at John Protevi's site which you might find useful.

February 03, 2007 8:43 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thank you for those insightful comments, Matt. Now I am able to lean towards Paul's idea that personal existence is not a biological fact--or at least begin to question whether it has virtual conditions that can't be described as laws of nature.

If finitude is the natural law, eternal return (in any acceptation) is a trangression; it does not, according to Deleuze, trangress by being infinite, by simple negation, but by repeating.

Does Deleuze's idea of an nth power entail something like infinity? Are we dealing with a radical finitude, opaque from the point of view of semovient existentialities, or are we negating finitude as such? I'm not sure at this point.

Finally, on analogy, I wonder whether ontology's claim to first philosophy doesn't imply, in some people's minds, that other ways of thinking are superfluous. And since I've devoted some time to the problem of ontology, I wonder whether I haven't already gone down this path myself, or where exactly this path is leading me. What does it mean (for ontology or against it) to say that something is good to think?

February 03, 2007 10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's getting busy out here...

razorsmile's link to Protevi is v.useful. I wonder if he knows the bk on DR that I can't remember the author of...(I'll check amazon).

As i've said before I'm not a 'deleuzian' and i'n not that au fait with DR. My knowledge of phil is too specific to deal with a lot of DR.
As i tried to show in The primacy of semiosis there is a sense in which the being of experience (and of the sign 'relation') is univocal.'
Duns Scotus also wanted to save his bacon and argued that univocity was only true 'logically'. In fact he was trying to save analogy (I do mention this in the bk).
As razorsmile suggests D is using Nietzsche's e.r. in an ethico/affirmative way. Can I affirm this moment if it returns eternally....D wants a phil of 'desire' understand as affirmative creation - not as 'lack'.
D. suggests in DR that Scotus only 'thought' univocity whereas Spinoza affirms it and N realizes it. Deleuze is after all a Spinozist....Spinoza has the 'best' plane of immanence for D and Guattari. An 'absolute immanence' which is not immanent to something....'freedom is only poss. with absolute immanence.'

I think D critizes analogous thought cos for him it produces a phil of 'recognition' that is not creative for him. ('this is a piece of chalk' etc).
Ultimately, DR is an experiment. I think 1000 plateaus does a better job and is much funnier!

"All persons are unlawful [anomic], as the facts we are considering show; but in the Platonist scheme all eclosions are worthless specimens, that is, just events that illustrate, or instance in some historical situation or moment of time, imperishable patterns of ontic possibility or transcendent Forms. This situation of a différentiel (or “difference,” à la Deleuze) serving only repetition even worsens if depicted with modern mathematical tools [as D does in DR], in which differential equations describe dynamic evolutions whose next step solely depends on the pattern cast at the previous step. Just as with quantum physics, they cannot depict finite minds. Such depiction leaves out all eclosions and semovience, absolutely intractable in differential equations even with approaches designed to consider and highlight the role of singularities in the systemic dynamics;...." (Mario Crocco).

As for postmortality - the issue is not being 'eternal' but rather not being 'in time' at all - but that's another story.
I understand finitude in the sense of not having brought myself into existence ...not about clock time...

Btw there is a good bk on DG by Eric Alliez 'The Signature of the world: or what is the phil of DG.'

Ultimately i could never follow him but i did enjoy celebration of affirmation - how can there be joy in a world of suffering (spinoza)?

this is getting too long - I will also be looking at John Protevi's site>

February 03, 2007 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To give body to the conception of repetition as the pure form of time, Deleuze turns to the Nietzschean concept of the eternal return. This difficult concept is always given a forceful and careful qualification by Deleuze whenever he writes about it (eg. DR 6;41; 242; PI 88-9; NP 94-100): that it must not be considered as the movement of a cycle, as the return of the identical. As a form of time, the eternal return is not the circle of habit, even on the cosmic level. This would only allow the return of something that already existed, of the same, and would result again in the suppression of difference through an inadequate concept of repetition." (Internet Encycl. of phil)

The bk i keep thinking of is:
"GD's Difference and Repetition: A crit intro." James Williams.

February 03, 2007 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just brushing up on DR. I had almost forgotten the whole argument....i'm getting too old.

"While habit returned the same in each instance, and memory dealt with the creation of identity in order to allow experience to be remembered, the eternal return is, for Deleuze, only the repetition of that which differs-from-itself, or, in Nietzsche's terminology, only the repetition of those beings whose being is becoming: "The subject of the eternal return is not the same but the different, not the similar but the dissimilar, not the one but the many . . ." (DR 126)

"As such, Deleuze tells us, repetition as the third meaning of time takes the form of the eternal return. Everything that exists as a unity will not return, only that which differs-from-itself. "Difference inhabits repetition." (DR 76). So, while habit was the time of the present, and memory the being of the past, repetition as the eternal return is the time of the future.

"The superiority of this third understanding of repetition as time has two main impetuses in Deleuze's argument. The first is obviously that it keeps difference intact in its movement of differing-from-itself. The second is as significant, if for different reasons. If only what differs returns, then the eternal return operates selectively (DR 126; PI 88-9), and this selection is an affirmation of difference, rather than an activity of representation and unification based on the negative, as in Hegel." (int Encyl. of phil).

February 05, 2007 1:00 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

This is all very interesting to me but not persuasive. The as if aspect of Deleuze's eternal return competes in my mind with the as if aspect of carpe diem, and I find the latter is radical and affirmative without requiring me to believe in the highly improbable. There is still this problem of repetition. I intend to give Deleuze a fair reading (I haven't yet made it to the chapter "Repetition for Itself"), but I'm inclined to be critical based on what I've read so far.

February 05, 2007 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just had a little note from Mario -
Your questions on D got me thinking about aspects of the Argentinian/German neurobiological tradition (AGNT)

> I suppose his whole thesis would be totally misplaced for you.
> Starting with difference rather than identity?

The issue of which is most
fundamental pivots on the
way of understanding identity.
If it is understood as distinction
(what makes something differ
from some other), no one, i.e.
neither difference nor identity,
are more fundamental than
the other. Both depend on an
outer relationship to compare.

Instead, when identity is unsderstood
as the enactment that makes the
entity not another, no outer relationship
is needed for comparusin and
distinction. Thus cadacualtez may
provide identity even if there were
a single existentiality in the universe.

> Also I think Mariela once said that there was no 'repetition' but i
> may have misunderstood and it was quite a few years ago.

I ignore the context; it clearly
makes sense inasmuch as every
act is unrepeatable. This is a basic
view in AGNT, "both" as regards
nature's efficient causation and
will. In it we are one with the last

> Deleuze wants to have a special form of repetition to maintain his
> thesis. (the repetion of the eternal return understood as 'the pure
> form of time). what returns is difference or becoming, rather than the
> repetition of the same. Or at least the argument goes something like
> that.....

It is an unfaithful mirror of
Nietzsche's only thing that
doesn't return, namely der
Wille zum Kraft.

Don't know if that helps...It helps me. There can be 'one' without any other...

Deleuze is sometimes a great writer and DR is not for me his finest hour.
I did like reading some of Jonas.

February 05, 2007 4:42 PM  

Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page