Deleuzo-Hegelianism, Part II: Why This is Not a Contradiction in Terms

This remains the best image related to Hegel on the web, so I feel no shame in reusing it.

[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.


~ by chris on August 9, 2011.

6 Responses to “Deleuzo-Hegelianism, Part II: Why This is Not a Contradiction in Terms”

  1. Chris,
    These are really great and informative posts! Thanks too for the shout. Because I’m not too familiar with the work of Deleuze I’ve had to do some external reading in order to follow the line of thought presented here. it appears you’re on to something profound I’d say and, perhaps, we’re walzing in the same general direction…or, to use Parfit’s recent metaphor, climbing the same mountain from different sides.

  2. Deleuze will have been the most important philosopher of this century, certainly in the continental tradition. I think why his reception as a philosopher has been slow to take is that he wrote such a variety of types of texts, and first came to prominence in the anglophone world via departments of literature, artists, etc. Also, he has two types of books, those which are rigorously philosophically annotated, and his more experimental works (ie: Thousand Plateaus). I think philosophers often wrote him off because of his more experimental works, and his popularity amongst non-philosophers often meant to them that he couldn’t be a serious philosopher. And his monographs on specific philosophers (Spinoza, Nietzsche, Leibniz, Bergson, Kant, Hume) were translated sometimes decades after his more experimental works.

    But there is no-one more important, as a philosopher, for 20th century thought than Deleuze. When I was at the recent Villanova philosophy conference, it seems that this has really taken hold. And his influence seems to only increase over time.

    If you’re curious on where to start with Deleuze, lemme know, I’d be more than happy to give some suggestions!

  3. Hi Chris, I have been following your blog for a bit, and am excited to see the history that you are putting together prior to this post. I am actually writing my thesis on French Hegelianism and Deleuze, so I think our interests sync in a lot of ways. I would suggest picking up Vincent Descombes Modern French Philosophy and The Barometer of Modern Reason; in the latter he draws on Habermas’ critique of Nietzschean-Hegelianism, or “dark Hegelianism” and “melan-Hegelianism”, to define 1930-60 in French thinking; remarking that in the end even Deleuze came to be known as a sort of anti-Hegel.

    At the same time, I think it is quite dangerous to attempt the reconciliation of Hegel into Deleuze. It is clear that Deleuze meant to take back certain notions (Concept, immanence, actuality, etc.) as well as Spinoza for his metaphysics, and that he had to work out of the context of the College of Sociology, Canguilhem–The Normal and the Pathological–and Hyppolite; but Deleuze never had much of a problem naming his targets, and throughout his work there is the repeated sense that he was saying ‘the problem isn’t in your interpretation of Hegel, but in Hegel himself’. In What is Philosophy? he says essentially that even Hegel’s great interpreters remain caught in Hegelian identity. I think the problem for Deleuze is that the logical conclusion of Hegel is essentially a justification of the State as absolute; moreover, Hegel seems to identify the freedom of an individual subject not by its specific situation in relation to other forces, but by that individuals identification of the possibility of a general freedom in relation to the form of government. These conclusions are obviously untenable for Deleuze.

    I think the question is, rather than if reconciliation is possible, ‘was Deleuze correct?’ Given our historical distance from the period, we may be in the first moment in which a Hegelian interpretation of modern French intellectual life is possible–that is, the sort of materialist Hegelianism of the Frankfurt School, wherein we read a lineage of readers as symptoms of a time (I think this is the method of Habermas and Descombes). Strong readers of Hegel shouldn’t blindly recapitulate his critiques of Hegel (as many have), and it is about time that we be able to reference them together as we would any other two thinkers, without aggravating imaginary orthodoxies. We should focus our interests on determining this history in full and recognizing exactly why Deleuze makes this radical break–he himself points to Hussurl, Heidegger (two thinkers who also are named less than their presence, in Deleuze) and Hegel together as representing a “new scholasticism”, which french thinkers threw themselves blindly into, in Dialogues; and use that to tell if Nancy, Zizek and Jameson are fabricating a new Hegel, when the answer is truly elsewhere, or if Deleuze’s critique is flawed and which aspects of Hegel may be retained.

    But I must stress that any Deleuze-Hegel synthesis will always reduce Deleuze to Hegel, his context and his frame of reference. To attempt to identify shifts in thought with vanishing mediators carries with it the danger of overdetermining cause when it is completely indeterminate. Furthermore, you reduce the differential element of his work to a set of repeated generalities, or worse yet, transform a relationship of rejection into one of secret indebtedness. On the other hand, the history of the Hegelian tradition in France, but also in Germany (through Benjamin and Frankfurt) as well as in pragmatics (his rejection by James, his appearance in Whitehead and Wittgenstein, etc.) is a means for thematizing the whole period.

    There are other aspects at play that should be considered. What is the role of the Heideggerian critique of Hegel in Sartre’s critique and Kojeve’s interpretation? How does Heidegger’s Nietzsche affect the french Hegel (Bataille and Blanchot) and the french Nietzsche (Nietzsche and the Viscious Circle comes to mind as the primary synthesis)?

    Anyway, good luck in your research, I hope to read more soon. I will be picking up Schrift’s book quite soon.

  4. Michael, thanks so much for the input, it’s really nice to hear voices return from the void, beyond the numbers of anonymous readers you see behind the website dashboard.

    I think you’re right, there is quite the silence in Deleuze regarding Heidegger and Husserl as well. It’s an interesting one, particularly seeing his recuperation of Bergson as ‘his type’ of phenomenology, it would seem that he’s pushing against the vogue for the phenomenological side of these thinkers. It is also interesting that he mentions Scotus quite a bit, I wonder how much of this is commentary on readings of Heidegger popular at that time.

    In terms of naming his targets, I’m not sure. I think the lack of general engagement with Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger is pretty damn interesting. As is his general lack of engagement with his living contemporaries aside from Lacan.

    I think you’re totally right that Deleuze rejects the side of Hegel that culminates in the state. This is, of course, the Kojevian side of Hegel, so to speak. But if we read the late Hyppolite, we see the side that prioritizes the Logic of Sense. And I think one of the most pressing issues in Hegel interpretation is the extent to which the stages produced in ANY of his works are like Wittgenstein’s famous ladder, to be discarded afterwards as contingent stepping stones, or whether or not they are somehow necessary.

    The radical Hegel that I think traces a line through Hyppolite to Nancy and Jameson I think views Hegel’s own bourgeosie values as moments to be disposed of by the very movement which Hegel gives birth to, semi-monstrously, from himself at times despite himself. That is, I think it is possible to read his glorification of the state as part of the process whereby the Concept had to use Hegel, via its own cunning, to come to articulation, but in a manner which could then be seen as disposable, retroactively just a moment in the Concept’s coming to self-consciousness. That is, Hegel’s own views need to be seen as disposed of by the very concept he gave birth to.

    A risky way to read Hegel, granted, because it throw so much of Hegel out! But this is I think the core of the Hegel that you see in modern Jameson and Nancy. And THIS Hegel is one which I think is quite amenable to Deleuze.

    Is this ‘true’ to Hegel, the ‘real’ Hegel? Certainly it is not the Hegel Deleuze despised. But it may be a Hegel that would not have been so objectionable to him. It may have been objectionable to Hegel, but giving monstrous children to philosophers from their own words is precisely what allows the history of philosophy to live in the present, I think.

    Btw, I was able to quickly find the first Descombes text on Googlebooks, and I scanned his comments on Deleuze/Hegel. Seems to make sense. The other book isn’t avail online, so can’t speak to it in any sorta quick way, but many thanks for the tips!

  5. How is it possible that the state then can be seen as merely a stage? Because ultimately, in hindsight, the bourgeosie state may not have been reasonable, according to later criterion. For example, we clearly see the limitations of the citizenship model today. I think Lyotard’s concept of the Differend really draws attention to why the traditional notion of the state and citizenship are flawed. And if reason is immanent, then it would retroactively view what had been the height of reason at Hegel’s time as simply a moment, yes?

    I think the question then becomes to what extent Hegel’s own models require us to see his texts as onesided moments which need to be superseded if one is to be ‘true’ to their insights. It’s this sort of immanent differentiation that I think attracts me to his texts, for they can be wildly productive in this way.

  6. […] the previous two posts I’ve argued for a Deleuzo-Hegelianism, but I have yet to speak of Deleuze’s review of […]

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