Monday, October 01, 2007

Surface Effects

Deleuze's rhapsody of the surface makes a strong impression in my mind, but it comes with a puzzle I can't quite piece together (The Logic of Sense, "Second Series of Paradoxes of Surface Effects"). I am impressed by the argument that depth has been illogically privileged over the superficial. Depth is not customarily viewed as a lack of breadth, as being of small surface, so either we should not think of the superficial as a lack of depth or we should rethink depth as lacking breadth. Deleuze calls profound Paul Valéry's idea that "what is most deep is the skin" (p. 10), however for Deleuze surfaces are incorporeal. Like Lucretius, he uses a distinction between conjuncta and eventa, and he has an idea of the simulacrum ("the faint incorporeal mist which escapes from bodies," ibidem), but he is well aware that he departs from the Epicureans in regarding such eminations as exactly incorporeal (pp. 335-336, endnote No. 4). Reading the Stoics, and in particular Émile Bréhier's study of the Stoics, Deleuze radically splits being from event, causes from effects, depths from surfaces, the present from the time of becoming. Events are incorporeal surface effects, never present but always becoming, never causes but quasi-causes at best. This I find puzzling.

I recall the trouble I had digesting Marion's argument for the anteriority of the effect. Marion also places the effect with the event, but according to him the time of the event is the present. Is this present a phenomenological present which contains within it protentions and retentions, or is this present more like the present that has never been past, or the present that has never been future? In any case the temporality of Deleuze's event is meant to be immediately paradoxical. "The event is coexstensive with becoming, and becoming is itself coextensive with language; the paradox is thus essentially a 'sorites,' that is a series of interrogative propositions which, following becoming, proceed through successive additions and retrenchments" (p. 8). (I think the sorites paradox is less a paradox than a math game that confuses the indefinite with the infinite.) So I am puzzled by what seems to be an ontological scission of cause and effect, and the notion of event with a different temporality than the body. I wonder why the event doesn't capture all temporality, and the answer seems to be tied up with the fact that it is only being considered as an effect.

"The genius of a philosophy," Deleuze writes, "must first be measured by the new distribution it imposes on beings and concepts" (p. 6). I don't agree that this is the measure for all philosophy, but perhaps it is a good measure of Deleuze's project–without thereby reducing his philosophy to his inventiveness in relating beings and concepts. I admire the erudition and creative energy he brings to bear on thinking the surface effect, even if, were I to appropriate the concept, I might not respect the distribution of beings and concepts he has labored to establish.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:53 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fido, I've struggled for years trying to make heads or tails as to what Deleuze is up to in The Logic of Sense, though to little avail. I still find it to be a deeply mysterious text. However, if you have it readily available, you might consult Deleuze and Guattari's essay "The Postulates of Linguistics" in A Thousand Plateaus. There Deleuze and Guattari revisit the theme of incorporeal surface-effects in terms of speech act theory. They attempt to show how language is primarily performative in character, intervening in the order of bodies. Thus, when a judge passes sentence on someone, finding them guilty, you will look in vain among the physical properties of the defendants body to find the quality of "criminality". Rather, this is something that intervenes in the distribution of bodies, while nonetheless changing that distribution in significant ways. Similarly in the case of the priest saying "I now pronounce you man and wife", or George Bush declaring Iran, Iraq, and North Korea the "Axis of Evil" following 9-11. In all these cases the being of the beings in question is transformed through a linguistic act. These things are literally in-corporeal in the sense of not being bodily properties, such as color, density, energy, etc. You can't find the property of being married anywhere in the physical properties of the person. Moreover, these are all events that "befall", as it were, the bodies involved and nominated.

Their analysis in "The Postulates of Linguistics" sheds a good deal of light on what Deleuze seems to be referring to in The Logic of Sense, though it doesn't entirely overlap. For instance, in The Logic of Sense, Deleuze seems to suggest that these events are somehow "exuded" from bodies (causes) like a mist, yet in "The Postulates of Linguistics" they are the result of an act. It's great to see someone blogging about this.

Sinthome, a.k.a. Larval Subjects

October 02, 2007 10:59 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I haven't even made it to the first appendix and look at how much catching up I have to do! (Paul was just recommending some further reading.) Hi, Sinthome. I've only glanced at Thousand Plateaus, but it's on my wish list. (Speaking of my wish list your book is there too, though I don't intend to order it until it's published.)

Once upon a time I was well-versed in speech act theory. It was always my prejudice that the body was in the act (not the acted upon), so to speak, but I'm interested in D&G's ideas and won't cling to a prejudice if it no longer makes sense. A book I picked up in grad school but never got around to reading is Willaim Hanks' Language and Communicative Practices. I might also take a look at John O'Neill's The Communicative Body, but I'm starting in another Patočka book and don't want to do too much phenomenology at once.

October 02, 2007 2:08 PM  

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