Deleuzo-Hegelianism, Part II: Why This is Not a Contradiction in Terms
[For more see previous post.]
Is it possible to bring together Hegel and Deleuze, without there being some sort of matter/anti-matter type dissolution, contradiction, conflagration?
Immanence and Self-Differing Substance
It seems to me that the key tactic for doing this is to link them via the notion of immanence so crucial to Hyppolite’s reading of Hegel. For Hyppolite, Hegel’s world of the logic of sense is a completely immanent approach to the world as, what some have called following both Deleuze and Lacan (see Aglaia Kiarina Kordela’s wonderful book on surplus in Lacan and Marx), ‘self-differentiating substance.’ And it is worth tracing the influence of Spinoza here, who Hegel, Lacan, and Deleuze all claim as a crucial ancestor.
Self-differing substance is the foundation of the Spinozist cosmos. And if Hegel emphasizes the substance side a bit much, and Hyppolite as well, Deleuze brings back the self-differing side with a vengeance. But his much heralded anti-transcendentalist, against what Nietzsche called ‘otherworldlism,’ nevertheless does so under the banner of immanence. There is a fine line between immanence and totalization, that terrifying closure that Adorno rightly railed against in texts like Negative Dialectics. If Hyppolite’s Hegel is wonderfully complex yet claustrophicly close to a closed totality, Deleuze brings out the side of an immanent, Spinozist inflected worldview which is radically self-differing.
Yet still immanent. As some have argued, you can often tell a lot by who has the same enemies. And if Deleuze’s great enemies were the great dualists, namely, Plato, Kant, Descartes, and to a lesser extent Lacan as their semi-heir, then it seems symptomatic that the dualism of Descartes and Kant are two of Hegel’s prime targets as well.
If Spinoza’s radically political approach to the world as self-differing substance, infused with a Stoic sense of ethics with a de-anthropomorphizing approach to the world in general, is what inspires so much of Deleuze’s assault on dualism, so it does with Hegel. And if Deleuze saw Nietzsche as his guiding anti-Hegelian father, Nietzsche’s rarely acknowledged Hegelianism is yet another factor at work here. For what is Nietzsche’s anti-otherworldlism than a call for a radical immanence?
Deleuze’s Nietzsche book in fact emphasizes how Nietzsche is a thinker of forces, similar to Spinoza in his immanent approach to the substance of the world as fundamentally about self-differing powers. And yet, Hegel has quite a lot to say about forces and their aspects (both in the Phenomenology as well as the Logic), in a manner which shows great kinship to an affectology of forces, even as it contextualizes this approach within the larger proto-deconstructive project of the movement of the negative.
The Concrete Universal
And yet, Hegel is also clear to rail against bad infinity, the going in circles that can lead to skepticism when the movement of the negative is reduced to deconstruction for its own sake. Rather than bad infinity, a true infinity for Hegel is one which sees the movement of the negative as productive, filled out with content, and that content as the concrete universal which Zizek sees as essential to understanding the potential for radical politics in our world today (see, for example, his arguments with Butler and Laclau in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality).
The concrete universal is completely the opposite of the lack that Deleuze hated in Lacan, or the negativity that Foucault saw as the opposite of the productivity of power. Hegel famously argues (for example, in the famous twin intros to the greater Logic) about the fact that his is not a formalist logic, in the mode of Aristotle or Kant (or analytic philosophers of all stripes), but rather, a logic which cannot be separated from content.
“Grapsing-itself” as Logic of Sense
But what sort of logic is this then? It is an attempt to trace the movement of universality within the concrete in an immanent sense. And this, it seems, is precisely what Deleuze does when he insinuates himself into a thinker (ie: Leibniz) or artist (ie: Bacon). Such an approach is hardly objective to what one analyzes, rather, it traces the movement of universality within the thinker by tracing it in the relation between oneself and the thinker one analyzes. But such a notion of ‘the universal’ or ‘universality’ should not be understood in some ultimate sense, but rather, as completely context specific. It is the general or abstract within a context. And every context has relative invariances in relation to those of its contexts of appropriation.
This is precisely what Hegel sees as ‘the grasping’, or thought via the concept. All grasping for Hegel, as he insistently says, is ubergriefen, over-grasping. Nancy nicely translates das Begriff as “the grapsing-itself”, echoing its ability to bring together in-itself an for-itself as the subject-object of becoming. What does it mean to grasp the world as both subject and substance?
The Moebial Concept as Substance and Subject
If substance is matter, and subjectivity is that which humans have yet are not the sole proprieters of, namely, that awareness and capacity for feeling, perception, thought, and action we often call mind, then Hegel’s entire project is an attempt to understand the world as the intertwining of matter and mind. And to do this, he views the fundamental stuff of the world as a splitting, a Spaltung, a scission, of which substance and subject are two sides and yet united like recto and verso of a sheet of paper folded in a Moebius band.
The labor of the negative is the manner in which matter is precisely that which exceeds itself, and this exceeding eventually allows matter to grasp itself via subjectivity, which exceeds itself in always grasping the matter from which it arises and yet from which it is constantly in a process of mutual-differentiation. This is what Adrian Johnston, in his book Zizek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity, refers to as transcendental (not transcendent, otherworldly!) materialism. That is, a panpsychist view of matter/mind which is increasingly becoming influential within contemporary cognitive science as a way of using paradigms based on complexity and emergence to think the manner in which matter grasps itself via mind.
From such a perspective, then, the fundamental stuff of the world (what Spinoza calls substance) is what differs from itself, and this differing gives rise to two moments, matter and mind. Mind is that within matter which is continually productive of new forms of matter, and matter is that within mind which is continually productive of new forms of mind. All the separations within what exists, such as that between moments of time, past-present-future, between determinate entities, these are so many moments of the manner in which substance differs from itself. The symmetries within this are the conceptual side of this, the asymmetries are the material side of this, and the interplay between these, their continual differentiation and self-grasping, describes the immanent production of a world of sense.
This sense is not Saussurian, based on firm differentiations, but simply descriptive of the manner in which the immanent productivity of self-differing substance comes to know itself by tracing the symmetries within its own movement. Rather it is a Peircian style, semiotics of the world coming to read its own writing on itself in a massive matter/mind semiosis which finds its unity simply in its continual differing.
From such a perspective, a Deleuzo-Hegelianism can begin to come into view. And I guess Deleuzo-Hegelian is a decent description of my own, networkological worldview. For I feel that if one is to be a Deleuzian today, one is unconsciously a Hegelian, so long as one means the Hegel of radical contingeny, finitude, and self-differing immanence. On the other hand, it seems hardly responsible, politically or otherwise, to be a Hegelian today, of any sort, unless one shares Deleuze’s vehemently anti-Hegelian concerns. And yet, these concerns are in many ways anti-Hyppolite, which is to say, against the side of Hyppolite’s version of Hegel that appeared to Deleuze as totalizingly airtight. And clearly, this side is there in both Hyppoliute and Hegel.
In tbis sense, to be a Deleuzian today is perhaps to be taken not so much by Nietzsche from behind, but from Hegel taking Nietzsche taking Deleuze from behind (and perhaps Spinoza behind Hegel!). And one can only be a Hegelian today, that is, if one also loves freedom and has hopes for a better world through the reworking of Hegel’s insights of a sort which has much in common with the Deleuzian critique thereof. To do so is to free the radical Hegel, the Hegel that can speak to the needs of our times, from the petty bourgeosie Hegel whose conservatism always tried to balance this out. The Hegel who is a thinker of radical creation, often despite himself.
In conclusion then, let me put it this way. To be a Deleuzian today is to be a Hegelian in all but name, and the only way to be a responsible, radical, left- Hegelian today is to be something like a Deleuzian. Deleuzo-Hegelianism, then, as a program for a speculative realism and political utopianism for the future.