Deleuze: Difference and Repetition

In context of this part of the course and to understand better underlying theories and motivations, I decided to read, at least partly, some key texts by Gilles Deleuze (1925 – 1995).

The following notes and reflections are based on Difference and Repetition (2017), focusing on the last chapter ‘Conclusion’. In parallel, I am reading Olkowski Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, a feminist perspective on the ‘logic of difference’ as opposition to a hegemonic perspective of representation. More on this in a later blog post.

Key Ideas ‘Difference and Repetition’:

One of Deleuze main philosophical endeavor is the reversion of Plato‘s conception of model-copy and representation that, with Aristotle, established itself as the main conception. He challenges the prevailing four aspects of representation (p.345):

  1. Identity: in ‘concept’, as the essence of sameness
  2. Opposition: in ‘predicate’
  3. Analogy: in ‘judgement’
  4. Resemblance: in ‘perception’, as the similar

All these aspects are converging to the conception of representation as a comparision between copies of an identity. Thus, Deleuze articulated in context of his ‘logic of difference’  four transcendental illusions of representation (pp. 349-53):

  1. Difference is represented through identity of a concept and through a thinking subject
  2. Difference is subordinated to resemblance
  3. Difference is subordinated by the negative
  4. Difference is subordinated to the analogy of judgement

What Deleuze was trying to say is that difference is neither a representation nor the absence of an identity. A comparison of two objects, a blue and a green, can only be done when one considers the blue one (identity of blue) as non-green (absence of green). The absence, the negation of identity, need to be overthrown for Deleuze.

Deleuze related representation to repetition, both subordinated traditionally in language to representational conceptions. The denial of firstness can give one idea about the complications. For Deleuze only the ‘third repetition turns itself as eternal return’ (p.382), i.e. the first and the second are still unique in the sense that only the third can be differentiated from two others and be seen as a repetition (the first has nothing to compare with, the second has only one to compare with, the third and the fourth etc. always has repeated others to compare with). Perhaps, this is also a reason behind the idea to go with three people, to make three options as more sustainable and viable?

The challenge in language with representation made Deleuze to conclude four dictations of repetition and representation (pp. 354-6):

  1. Representation provides no direct and positive criteria to distinguish between repetition and resemblance
  2. Representation evokes the identity of the concept
  3. Repetition can receive only a negative explanation
  4. Repetition is only defined in relation to the absolute identity of the concept

Deleuze continues in exploring aspects of ‘ground/grounding’ (pp.357-363) that leads the same challenge of identity and sameness (the internal features) as well as resemblance and similar (the external features).

“The theory of thought is like painting; it needs that revolution which took art from representation to abstraction.” – Gilles Deleuze

It is for that reason that Deleuze is in favor of art and transformed philosophy into an art with thought. For him philosophy deals with concepts and art with precepts and affects (Sutton, 2013, pp.92-106).

And it is the relationship with art that eventually made Deleuze to conclude a system of simulacra as the essence of difference through ‘impersonal individuations and pre-individual singularities that surround representations and which simulacra emerge’  (Deleuze, p. 363). This resonates for me very much with the conception of ‘negative space’ in art, i.e. one can draw the ‘positive’ shapes that create form or look at the other part of the space, the negative space that surrounds those positive shapes.

The actualisation of ideas, the individuation of the space of simulacra, is what makes the difference. At the end it is all about variations and distributions without origin, perhaps a random selection, kind of negative entropy.

Deleuze stated in his book that all ideas are residing in the unconsciousness, ideas are the ‘problematic-ideas’ and through affirmation solutions are found and actualised. An aspect that I find quite restrictive, to consider realised differences as a problem-solving activity. There might be realised solutions that have nothing to do with a problem, as applied e.g. by solution focused counselling.

For Deleuze, it is the non-origin of difference that makes new propositions and affirmations possible. Life is not an imitation but a repetition of differences based on an internal power and desire.

Conclusions & Learnings

  • Plato’s conception of division and to subordinate others to the essence of identity, to the sameness, is for Deleuze the main reason why representation as copies of identities are too restrictive and enable hegemonic perspectives by relating ‘others’ to the identify of the ‘one’.
  • The internal power and possibilities are articulated and realised through variations and invididuations.
  • Deleuze focus on the problematic of ideas are restrictive as for me it considers life as a problem-solving creation.
  • I find that Deleuze very much applied a Platonic sense of argumentation. One could say that Deleuze replaced Plato’s essence of an idea with problems and differences, the sameness with multiple affirmations, and the surface effects of phantasma with the ‘shadow of the negative’. It is all theory and language, but I can sense that the negation of representation by Deleuze is not so much different in argumentation than Plato’s negation of simulacra. Either the likeness is different, or the differences are alike.
  • I can see Deleuze’s approach as quite a ‘democratic’ approach of possibilities and options and not discriminating one versus the other. I am wondering how this could be translated into visual culture and politics. How can divergence per se result in agreements, decisions and understanding? I can see that equality of subjects and objects need to be a common denominator in life. But this is also a humanistic approach to see all human beings equal. What lies, besides a philosophical theory, inside of it that may have a real impact in daily life?
  • The notion of equality and equal differences as the ground for becoming does negate representation and the convergence of the concept of identity. If all difference are alike, would then identity and sameness equally be valid as difference? This relates to the question of tolerance, does tolerance includes intolerance by others whom we tolerate?


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