The Aesthetic of the Singular

Gilles Deleuze, in his quest to release the simulacrum from the chains of Platonism, seeks to develops an aesthetic appropriate to it. One in which the structure of the relationship between the subject and its object escapes the sameness and repetition of conceptuality, emphasising instead the “disparity” and “difference” of the singular. 

In order to do this, what he calls the current “agonizing dualism” of aesthetics needs to be resolved. This dualism has developed in the evolution of the term, from Kant’s First Critique, The Critique of Pure Reason, to the Third, The Critique of Judgment. The former privileges cognition, conceptual understanding, while the latter privileges the affect that something has on us, i.e. how it makes us feel. In order to bring about a resolution between the two, Deleuze looks for a place where they communicate. He finds it in our a priori sense of time and space, “the inner and outer forms of intuition,” which regulate both.

In the transcendental aesthetic of the First Critique the relationship between us and our sensibility of what is before us, is theorised as an object-concept relationship. In which the matter of the object is waiting to be made into something by the active agency of the conceptual category that is imposed on it. Deleuze likens this to a “process of molding.” Here the sense of time and space are the intuitions necessary for our development of this cognitive understanding. They are the medium through which we have the object, prior to the development of conceptual understanding.

In the Third Critique, which discusses the aesthetic of the beautiful and the sublime, the thing is there in its appearance in a way that does not allow conceptual understanding to regulate it, it affects us prior to cognition. The feelings of the beautiful and the sublime are conveyed and expressed through the mediums of time and space, which establish affective relationships between objects, the object and ourselves and within the viewing subject, in the connection between the active I and the passive Self. 

We can go further and say that the affect of beauty is found to be beyond all conceptualisations, we cannot account for it conceptually, yet we demand its universal agreement. Similarly the “attribution of time and space to phenomena” (S, 11*) of the First Critique is beyond the cognitive, as it comes before it . Thus both the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of the First Critique and the “Analytic of the Beautiful” in the Third, are united in that they both  “give an account of non-cognitive, or pre-cognitive, sensible experience.” (ibid)

The outcome of this is that all acts of sensible intuition have a pre-cognitive stage, which is neither arbitrary nor conceptual. In acknowledging feelings as the basis of experience there is what Steven Shaviro calls a “creative construction,” immanent to the subject, in which experience is ordered and organised. Experience of the world, and of the artwork, is therefore understood as singular, i.e. not subject to a preordained structure. Therefore “the conditions of real experience and the structures of the work of art are reunited” (TLS, 261)

*Steven Shaviro: “The “Wrenching Duality” of Aesthetics: Kant, Deleuze, and the “Theory of the Sensible.” November 10, 2007

Previous Post: The Domain of images

All Deleuze Posts

The Domain of Images

Gilles Deleuze, in his essay “Plato and the Simulacrum,” describes how Plato divides the “domain of images” into two. On the one hand there are iconic copies, which are the true likenesses of the original, and then there are phantasmic simulacra, which have a relationship of semblance to the original. The icons are endowed with resemblance, this is not a correspondence between two external things, but between a thing and an idea. “A copy truly resembles something only to the extent that it resembles the Idea of the thing.” The copy to be recognised as such will be seen as being endowed with the quality of the original. In short, it is the superior identity of the Idea that grounds the claims of the copies, grounding them on an internal or derived resemblance.

The claim of the simulacrum  is “made from below without passing through the Idea.” Thus it is an image of the original, but without resemblance, it is without the quality of the original. It is there as an aesthetic image, i.e. it is perceived and as such gives an effect of the original. It is constructed not on resemblance but on “disparity” and “difference.” The simulacral image avoids “the equivalent, the limit, the Same, or the Like.”

Making the simulacrum appear like what it is an image of, represses it, confines it “within a cave in the bottom of the ocean.”

Next Post: The Aesthetic of the Singular
Previous Post: The Motivation of Platonism

All Deleuze Posts

Doxa and Pseudos

The similes of the wax mass and the aviary connect our stances towards beings of dianoia (inner perception) and aisthesis (bodily perception) to mnemoneuein (making-present in memory). The effect of this is to broaden the domain of beings beyond those which we have in immediate presence to include those which are bodily absent but which we retain. Furthermore the retained can also be both absent and present, i.e. it can be made present or we have the awareness of the possibility of making it present. It is this “essential twofold possibility, pertaining to every accessible being” (i.e. whether present or absent) that leads to the clarification of the essence of doxa.

Doxa
As we have seen Doxa is ambiguous, it means both the look that something or someone offers and what the viewer makes of it in terms of opinion. What shows itself gives off an appearance, awakens an impression in the viewer, which is intrinsically unreliable. Doxa therefore can be either true or false. Thus the word doxa obtains its meaning from two opposed directions, from the object and from the stance we take towards it. Both are present in one word, they are not juxtaposed but have one meaning, one which “involves attending to the other.”

Both similes taken together demonstrate that a being can be perceived both in immediate bodily presence and through the activity of mnemoneuein, making-present that which is absent. Making-present lets something not present be represented in advance, prior to it again coming into bodily presence. This is reflected in Plato’s definition of doxa as “a combination of what is encountered in immediate having-present with what is made-present in advance.” (221)

Heidegger tests this definition by applying it to an instance of doxic seeing, in this case a true view, i.e. one that is not mistaken: “Theodorus takes somebody approaching from a distance, who is in fact Theaetetus, to be Theaetetus.” (220) Heidegger analyses:

[the distant figure] “presents a view, a look, indeed the look of Theaetetus: accordingly, on the basis of this look, we take him for Theaetetus. Another possibility: we know Theaetetus, we know in advance that at this time of day he usually comes along this road, we can already visualise him doing this, we can hold ourselves to him as this being who is not yet bodily present. And now a man appears in the distance, presenting a view to us, without our being able to see with sufficient clarity that it is Theaetetus: but we opine it must be him: we now take the approaching person to be Theaetetus, not because of the look (having-present) but because of prior making-present.” (221)

Thus we have two objects towards which doxic seeing is directed, both of which are at the same time known and unknown. There is the unidentified “somebody approaching” who is concretely present but not known, we do not yet know who it is. We also have Theaetetus who we make present in advance of his concrete presence, so we know him in memory but do not know him in bodily presence.

These are not two separate ways of seeing but one. Heidegger reflects Plato’s definition when he says that the seeing of doxa, “is a comportment that is unitarily directed both to what is bodily present and to what making-present re-presents in advance.” (222) This leads him to characterise doxa as “two-pronged or forked,” one prong aimed at what is present before us, the other towards that which we anticipate – both seen together. This clarifies the nature of the true doxa as a fork, which means it must also be important for understanding the pseudes doxa and therefore of pseudos.

Pseudos
The understanding of pseudos is now approached through an example of a false view: “someone takes the distant Theaetetus for Socrates.” The distant person seems, looks like both Theaetetus and Socrates. For this to happen we must know both Theaetetus and Socrates and they must be bodily absent but yet made-present. This means the seeing of the false view can only happen in mnemonic making-present, i.e. what is brought to mind in memory. The action of looking, that Heidegger ascribes to the false view, is one of looking past what is seen, which is; towards what is seen, which is not. “What is passed by is precisely there, is as such present.”

The seeing of the pseudes doxa mis-takes the seeing of something as something, one thing determines the look of the other by hiding it. Yet it is not completely hidden it shows itself to our doxa as seeming. One thing can seem like… and like … Heidegger defines seeming as a mode of unhiddenness (i.e truth) which is essentially hiddenness (i.e. untruth). This brings us back to the beginning of Heidegger’s account of his engagement with Plato, truth as aletheia is what is not hidden, therefore untruth is what is hidden.

Derek Hampson

Next Post: Plato’s Failure          Previous post: The Simile of the Aviary

Contents

The Motivation of Platonism

In his project to release the power of the false, Deleuze follows Nietzsche in identifying Platonism as the force, within Western thinking, that seeks to elevate the true at the expense of the false. Characterised as the theory of Ideas, Platonism understands that the essence of a thing resides in its Idea, its essential nature, which exists beyond the physical. Things that we see are, in varying degrees, images or copies of their otherworldly original. At the beginning of his essay “Plato and the Simulacrum,” Gilles Deleuze quotes Nietzsche’s claim that the task of future philosophy will be nothing less than the “overthrow of Platonism.”

Yet, rather than subverting this Platonic “world of essence and appearance,” Deleuze maintains that Nietzsche’s call is aimed at tracking down its motivation. This, he finds, is in its “will to select, to sort out,” by distinguishing between the “thing itself” and its images. In this sense the theory of Ideas is a process of division, through which the claim of images to truthfulness are ranked in order, from the true copy to the false image, the simulacrum

The Platonic Idea enables a judgement of the degree to which an image possesses the quality of the original. Distinguishing between the rightful claimant to truthfulness, the model or copy, and that which has only the semblance of truthfulness, the simulacrum. The truthful image will resemble the idea, while the simulacrum will have a semblance “ever corrupted by dissemblance.”

Thus the motive of Platonism is to ensure the triumph of the true copies and and to repress the simulacra, false images, “keeping them chained in the depths” (48).

Next Post: The Domain of images

All Deleuze Posts

The Simile of the Aviary

The simile of the aviary below, and the previous simile of the wax mass, demonstrate our capacity for retaining and making-present that which is absent. What is absent cannot be present as unconcealed (i.e. as truthful as aletheia), and is therefore false. This leads to the clarification of the structure of doxa, in the next post, as an ambiguous form of seeing, inherent in the seeing of the false.

The retaining of beings for making present, as first encountered in the simile of the wax mass, is further elaborated through the simile of the aviary, as translated by Martin Heidegger in The Essence of Truth (215).

[Socrates] ‘Well, having and possessing seem different things. If a man buys a cloak and in this sense brings it under his power, but does not wear it, we should certainly say, not that he has it on, but that he possesses it’
[Theaetetus] ‘And rightly’
‘Now see whether it is possible in the same way for someone who possesses knowledge not to have it, in like manner, for instance, to a man who catches wild birds – pigeons or the like – and sets up an aviary at home in which to keep them. Might we assert that in a certain way he always has the birds, because he possesses them?’
‘Yes’
‘And yet in another way he does not have any of the birds, but has acquired power over them, since he has brought them under his control within his own enclosure. He can take them and hold them whenever he likes, by catching whichsoever bird he pleases, and letting it go again; and he can do this as often as he likes.’
‘That is true’
‘And again, just as a while ago we contrived some sort of waxen figment in the soul, so now let us make in each soul an aviary stocked with all sorts of birds, some in flocks apart from the rest, others in small groups, and some solitary, flying hither and thither among all the others’
‘Consider it done. What next?’
‘We must assume that when we were children this receptacle was empty, and we must understand that the birds represent the varieties of knowledge. And whatsoever kind of knowledge a person acquires and shuts up within the enclosure, we must say that he has learned or discovered the thing of which this is the knowledge, and that precisely this is knowing’
‘So be it’

The simile of the aviary

Heidegger’s Interpretation
When we are born this container in our soul is empty, gradually it becomes filled with birds, i.e. we become familiar with beings and store them in the aviary. We have the birds stored there as possessions, they are left to their own devices. Thus we retain them but they are absent, but we can make them present by the action of grasping, taking up an active relationship towards them. Thus in the sphere of making present, memory, the same thing can be absent and present, we can have it as possession (ktesis) without expressly bringing it to mind. We can also select it by grasping it, taking an active relationship of being towards it (hexis).

Whoever possesses such an aviary possesses the doves in this cage, in this container, but does so in different ways. First, by sitting in a house, in a room, and having the doves under a roof. In this way, he can possess them and add to his possession. But he can also grasp a dove inside the container. There is the fundamental possibility of taking something out of this domain and having it in a stronger sense, taking on a relationship of Being with it. (Being and Truth, 198)

Next post: Doxa and Pseudos              Previous post: The Simile of the Wax Mass

Contents

The Simile of the Wax Mass

The simile of the wax mass below and the following simile of the aviary, demonstrate our capacity for retaining and making-present that which is absent. What is absent cannot be present as unconcealed (i.e. truthful as aletheia), and is therefore false. This leads to the clarification of the structure of doxa as an ambiguous form of seeing, inherent in the seeing of the false.

Assume then, by way of simile, that our souls contain something like a wax mass, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, sometimes purer, sometimes more impure, sometimes harder, sometimes softer, and sometimes of just the right quality. [Everything that we immediately perceive, and also everything that we take in and comprehend, is imprinted upon it] … This wax mass, we say, is a gift of the mother of the Muses. (210)

The simile of the wax mass

Heidegger’s Interpretation
The soul contains a wax mass, into which all experiences are imprinted, its capacity to receive these impressions varies with the individual: “sometimes larger, sometimes smaller…” We can draw upon the impressions retained in this wax mass, in order to hold before ourselves that which is no longer present, or we are no longer with. We have a “connection of being” to what is absent, in the same way that an artist can “visualise and freely form their work in its entire fullness, prior to and without the help of any outline.” i.e. without a body being present. This capacity is the gift of the mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, which belongs to the essence of the soul as a “primordial dowry.” (210)

Heidegger says this gift of Mnemosyne is not recollection but the faculty of mindfulness, the innate capacity of the soul to make-present that which is not physically there. In making-present that which is absent, we do not orient ourselves towards an inwardly stored image, but outwards towards the thing itself in its full appearance, which we betake ourselves to “without removing ourselves from our factual location.” (212) Since we do not have the thing itself before us from which to draw its eidos, its look, we orient ourselves to its eidolon, its look-alike [also simulacrum] retained in the wax mass inside the soul.

Thus our stance, through the soul, towards those beings retained for making-present, is that of mnemoneuein, the retaining of what is retainable, which Heidegger describes as a “faculty of the soul.” Yet what is retained is not unchanging, our relationship to it can change, we can forget, or the thing itself may change, so that our knowledge of it becomes distorted.

The making-present of the wax mass is essentially a passive having of what is retained. The simile of the aviary demonstrates a more active making-present of that which is retained.

Next post: The Simile of the Aviary          Previous post: What Lies Between

Contents

What Lies Between

The failure of each of the three perspectives to explain the false view leads to their abandonment. In their stead the phenomenon of the pseudes doxa itself leads the way in what is now the main investigation, which seeks to clarify the nature of the “combined comportment” which the phenomenon of the false view demands.

The pseudes doxa is still approached in terms of knowledge, but rather than being thought as something we either know or do not know, what is looked for is what is in the middle of both, which Heidegger calls the “intermediate phenomena” of “coming-to-know.” This coming-to-know is explained through the process of learning; “in the learning process there is always something that one knows and as yet does not know.” (206) Thus, what lies in between knowing and not knowing, coming-to-know, combines the two. This allows a new perspective, the metasu, “what lies in between,” to be opened up, from which the phenomenon of the distorted view is now approached.

Through this new combined perspective, of coming-to-know, the complex duality of doxa is now better understood as requiring a comportment from ourselves “of knowing and at the same time not-knowing.” This in turn leads to the possibility of securing the essence of doxa, pseudes doxa and pseudos.

Rather than a philosophical impossibility, the false view is now understood as having an “intermediate character,” one which reflects the “condition and comportment of man wherein he is somehow related to beings, albeit distortedly.” (208) The phenomenon of the false view is thus intrinsic to our relationship to being, which was shown to belong to the soul. The soul is now revisited, in light of doxa’s combined duality, in a “new double characterisation,” given in the form of two similes.

These similes place us before two sensory images, the first a wax mass and the second an aviary, through which the soul’s capacity to make present what is not before us and its role in allowing us to see what is false are discussed. I shall describe each in turn.

Next post: The Wax Mass          Previous post: The Three Perspectives Retracted

Contents