God, or the Body without Organs Steven Shaviro email@example.com
Deleuze and Guattari warn us that a synthesis, or a process of production, "must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself; nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself" (1983, 5). It is oriented towards becoming, rather than continuation. More generally, there is a subtle, and never fully explored, tension in Deleuze’s work (both with and without Guattari) between two different ways – closely related but nonetheless distinct – of conceiving the process of auto-creation. On the one hand, there is Spinoza’s conatus, best defined as "a tendency to maintain and maximize the ability to be affected" (Deleuze 1988, 99, citing Spinoza’s Ethics IV 38). Conatus is quite close to Varela’s concept of autopoiesis, the process by which a relational system maintains itself through dynamic interaction with its environment, recreating the very processes that produce it.
On the other hand, there is Gilbert Simondon’s notion of individuation, the process by which an entity continually reconstitutes itself by actualizing potentials that pre-exist in a metastable environment. Individuation has strong affinities with Whitehead’s concrescence, the way that an entity constitutes itself as something radically new, by selecting among, and recombining, aspects of already-existing entities. All four of these terms (conatus, autopoiesis, individuation, concrescence) imply a certain sort of auto-creation, in which virtualities are actualized. But in conatus and autopoiesis, the emphasis is on a continuity that is created and preserved in and through continual change and interaction with the environment; whereas, in individuation and concresence, the emphasis is on the production of novelty, the entity’s continual redefinition, or becoming-other than what it was... It is precisely on these grounds that Ernst Bloch (1986, 201) criticizes Bergson, the common predecessor of Whitehead and Deleuze. Bloch warns us that relentless novelty can itself become wearyingly repetitious and static. Incessant innovation, without real consequence, simply results in boredom: the continual passage of "senselessly changing fashions," the "rigidity of a surprise that is always the same." A "constantly required change of direction, required for its own sake," ends up taking us nowhere in particular, but only through the endless "zig-zag" of a random walk. The trouble with a process metaphysics, Bloch says, is that "the process remains empty and repeatedly produces nothing but process." It never arrives at any finished product; and therefore it never arrives at the Novum, the genuinely new. Instead, "the process remains empty and repeatedly produces nothing but process." ... This is why Deleuze (explicitly) and Whitehead (implicitly) both reject the Hegelian notion of contradiction as the motor of change, or of history. Deleuze is always concerned to define philosophical thought as a power of affirmation, rather than one of negation. But he is always quick to add that the negative still has its place, as long as we see "negations as powers of affirming," instead of invoking negativity "as a motor, a power, and a quality" in its own right (1983, 179). Every New necessarily provides its own negations; but negativity is not in any sense the inner principle of the New... Deleuze and Guattari’s revision or correction of Kant in Anti-Oedipus consists in referring each of these clusters of Idea, category, and relation back to a corresponding synthesis. The Idea of Self is derived from the conjunctive synthesis; the Idea of the World from the connective synthesis, and the Idea of God from the disjunctive synthesis... In The Logic of Sense, Oedipus is the "pacifying hero" who "dispelled the infernal power of depths and the celestial power of heights, and now claims only a third empire, the surface, nothing but the surface" (1990, 201). In Anti-Oedipus, this function is condemned rather than celebrated; but it remains the case "that Oedipus is a requirement or a consequence of social reproduction, insofar as this latter aims at domesticating a genealogical form and content that are in every way intractable" (1983, 13). In both texts, Oedipal quasi-causality tames (but cannot altogether master) the schizophrenic intensities produced in the depths of materiality and of bodies. Anti-Oedipus is usually read as repudiating the depth/surface opposition that structured The Logic of Sense. But the actual relation between the two books is more complicated than such a formulation would indicate. In The Logic of Sense, quasi-causality is described as an effect of the surface; to the contrary, Artaud’s Body without Organs is presented as a pure experience of the depths (1990, 82-93 passim). In Anti-Oedipus, however, the imageless figures of quasi-causality on the surface, and of the Body without Organs in the depths, are equated with one another. This is why the Body without Organs is described as both a "recording surface" and a "full body." The "nondifferentiated" blankness of antiproduction is both a surface effect, and a deep "counterflow of amorphous, undifferentiated fluid" (1983, 9). Thus Anti-Oedipus retains both the distinction between surfaces and depths, and the distinction between material causality (production) and quasicausality (antiproduction); only it redistributes these two distinctions, instead of aligning them with one another... I will only touch briefly here on the vexed question of the relation between what Whitehead calls the "primordial" and "consequent" natures of God. The primordial nature of God is purely conceptual, as it involves potentiality or virtuality: "viewed as primordial, he is the unlimited conceptual realization of the absolute wealth of potentiality. In this aspect, he is not before all creation, but with all creation" (1929/1978, 343). This is God as "the principle of concretion – the principle whereby there is initated a definite outcome from a situation riddled with ambiguity" (345). The consequent nature of God, on the other hand, is physical and actual. It "is derived from the objectification of the world in God. . . the concrescent creature is objectified in God as a novel element in God’s objectification of that actual world" (345). That is to say, the consequent nature of God involves something like the inscription, or recording, of everything that has happened in all actual occasions. The primordial nature of God is an opening towards futurity, the condition of possibility for every becoming. The consequent nature of God is like Bergsonian memory, or "pure recollection": the "being in itself of the past" (Deleuze 1991, 60), or its preservation as past. Very roughly speaking, the primordial nature of God corresponds to the Body without Organs as virtual "full body"; while the consequent nature of God corresponds to the Body without Organs as "recording surface." This is what differentiates process thought from any form of the dialectic. For Bergson, Whitehead, and Deleuze, and contrary to Hegel (1977, 407), "the wounds of the Spirit" can never be made whole; and they always do leave scars behind. The past persists as past, in its entirety: an "objective immortality" that cannot be subsumed or sublated. But this persistence is itself the condition for a radically open future, one that cannot be prefigured or contained by any sort of dialectical movement... This is yet another way in which Whitehead remains an heir to Kant’s critical revolution, rather than reverting to pre-critical thought. Deleuze lists as one of Kant’s great "poetic formulas" the way that "Kant reverses the relationship of the law and the Good." Where traditional metaphysics, from Plato onward, derives all moral laws from the the ideal of the Good, for Kant "it is the Good which depends on the Law, and not vice versa. . . The Law as empty form in the Critique of Practical Reason corresponds to time as pure form in the Critique of Pure Reason" (Deleuze 1984, x). Whitehead replaces Kant’s "empty form" of the Categorical Imperative with God’s merely empirical arbitrariness; but he remains Kantian in his refusal to subject this arbitrary "decision" to any pre-existing standard of rationality or Goodness, or to any higher form of justi-fication. "What is metaphysically indeterminate has nevertheless to be categorically determinate. We have come to the limits of rationality" (Whitehead 1925/1967, 178)... Tim Clark, in his lucid and powerful discussion of Deleuze’s encounter with Whitehead (2002), argues against Deleuze’s reading of Whitehead’s God as a figure of affirmation and metamorphosis. For Clark, Whitehead’s God never performs the disjunctive synthesis in a fully af-firmative or Deleuzian manner. Rather, since for Whitehead "restriction and limitation are the conditions of value," Whitehead’s God "is still required to enact, or at least to found, disjunctions that are not yet positively synthetic or wholly affirmative" (198). Whitehead never quite reaches the condition of a Deleuzian "chaosmos," because "within Whitehead’s system the universe remains, in principle, only semi-open and therefore partially predictable" (202). Deleuze is misreading, therefore, when he attributes his own "total affirmation" of difference to Whitehead, who never fully escapes "the weight of ontotheological tradition bearing down upon him" (205). I have learned a lot from Clark’s discussion; in particular, I am indebted to him for reading Whitehead’s notion of God in the light of Deleuze’s discussion of the Kantian (and Klossowskian) disjunctive syllogism. And Clark is entirely right to see elements of limitation and exclusion at work in Whitehead’s account of God. I differ from Clark in that I see a movement between the exclusive and inclusive uses of the disjunctive synthesis at work in both Whitehead’s account of God and Deleuze’s account of the Body without Organs – and, indeed, already in Kant’s account of God. Though Deleuze tends to describe the opposition between the two uses of the synthesis polemically and absolutely, in practice he slides back and forth between them – because every actualization of the virtual unavoidably involves some sort of limitation, and because the analysis of forms of coding and capture, on the one hand, and of the mobilization of "lines of flight" on the other, necessarily makes reference to the tension between these two uses... On the technical level of Whitehead’s metaphysics, this account of God is needed in order to resolve the difficulties raised by the Category of Conceptual Reversion. Whitehead initially formulates this Category as follows: "There is secondary origination of conceptual feelings with data which are partially identical with, and partially diverse from, the eternal objects forming the data in the first phase of the mental pole. The diversity is a relevant diversity determined by the subjective aim" (1929/1978, 26). That is to say, an actual occasion is not limited to prehending only those eternal objects that are realized in the empirical data in front of it. Even if everything that it sees is blue, it is also able to imagine red. It is capable of forming feelings, and yearning after potentialities, that are "diverse from" those provided by "the data in the first phase" of experience. Now, this is a categorical requirement of Whitehead’s system, or what Kant would call a necessary "transcendental presupposition": for otherwise novelty would be impossible. Without some notion of "conceptual reversion," an actual entity that prehended only blue-colored data would never be able to posit redness. But it is hard to see how the Category of Conceptual Reversion is consistent, or coherent, with Whitehead’s basic ontological principle, which states that "every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance has its reason either in the character of some actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence, or in the character of the subject which is in process of concrescence" (24). Where, then, does the imagination of redness come from? Since, by definition, the datum of a novel conceptual prehension is not present in any "actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence," it must arise out of "the character of the subject which is in process of concrescence," which is to say, out of the entity’s "subjective aim." But how does such a previously "unfelt eternal object" (249) ingress into, and alter, an entity’s subjective aim in the first place? What enables "the positive conceptual prehension of relevant alternatives" (249)? Traditional idealist metaphysics resolves this problem by appealing to some Platonic principle of recollection: the Idea of red exists in itself, independently of my thinking it; and for that very reason accessible to my thought. Today’s cognitive science, following Kant, retains this argument by subjectivizing it: the Idea of red may not exist in and of itself, but it is a necessary product of innate structures of the human mind. But Whitehead is loath to accept this line of reasoning – even though he compares what he calls "eternal objects" to the Platonic forms (44). For any appeal to already-given forms would mean limiting the scope of novelty, by reducing it to mere structural permutations, or variations of a theme. At first, Whitehead entertains the idea that eternal objects might have the power within themselves to refer to other, related eternal objects: "the determinate definiteness of each actuality is an expression of a selection from these forms. It grades them in a diversity of relevance. This ordering of relevance starts from those forms which are, in the fullest sense, exemplified, and passes through grades of relevance down to those forms which in some faint sense are proximately relevant by reason of contrast with actual fact" (43-44). But ultimately Whitehead rejects this argument, because "the question, how, and in what sense, one unrealized eternal object can be more, or less, proximate to an eternal object in realized ingression – that is to say, in comparison with any other unfelt eternal object – is left unanswered by this Category of Reversion" (249-250). The "grades of relevance" and proximity among eternal objects can only be determined to the extent that these objects can be ordered in a closed and well-defined set. But this is belied by the fact that "nature is never complete," that "it is always passing beyond itself" (289). Whitehead states that "there are no novel eternal objects" (22); but he also requires us to conceive the "whole" of eternal objects as something other than a closed set. (The notion of a whole that is not a closed set is formulated by Deleuze in relation to Bergson: Deleuze 1986, 10-11). These considerations lead Whitehead to insist that the question of the ingression of previously unrealized eternal objects "can be answered only by reference to some actual entity." In accordance with the ontological principle, there must be some empirical source for the "missing" eternal objects. The "conceptual prehension" of alternative potentialities must have its roots in a prior "physical prehension." God is the actual entity who fulfills this condition – or, whose existence Whitehead infers from the requirement to fulfill this condition. God prehends all eternal objects indiscriminately, and thereby makes them available to any "temporal entity" whatsoever. Through this appeal to God, "the Category of [Conceptual] Reversion is then abolished, and Hume’s principle of the derivation of conceptual experience from physical experience remains without any exception" (250). Whitehead’s struggle with this problem, and his initial assertion, and subsequent rejection, of the Category of Conceptual Reversion, is traced in detail by Lewis S. Ford (1984, 211-241 passim). The crucial point is that Whitehead’s recourse to God is in fact, odd as this might seem, a way of rejecting transcendent solutions, and embracing instead an immanent one. God is the correlate of Whitehead’s "transcendental empiricism," just as the Body without Organs is of Deleuze’s... Kant is careful to point out that "this moral necessity is subjective, i.e. a need, and not objective, i.e. itself a duty; for there can be no duty whatever to assume the existence of a thing (because doing so concerns only the theoretical use of reason)" (2002, 159). It is not even our duty to believe in God; it is only the case that we are pragmatically forced to believe in God – i.e. that we are unable not to believe in God – to the extent that we follow the commands of moral obligation. God cannot even be invoked as the basis of moral obligation; rather, moral obligation itself provides the sole basis for any belief in God. Whitehead follows Kant in the way that he posits God’s existence adjunctively, rather than foundationally. But for Whitehead, it is aesthetics, rather than morality, that forces us to assume the existence of God... As Whitehead dryly says, "God’s purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of intensities. The evocation of societies is purely subsidiary to this absolute end" (105). This "evocation of societies" means precisely the self-perpetuation of living organisms such as ourselves.