Translation of the Introduction to Véronique Bergen’s L’Ontologie de Gilles Deleuze

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Bergen, Véronique.  L’Ontologie de Gilles Deleuze. L’Harmattan: Paris, 2001, 7-14.

translated by Taylor Adkins and Lindsay Lerman



In the declination of “what is called thinking?” and “what does it mean to orient oneself in thinking?[i]”, the reflexive return to the operation of thinking is straightaway to establish–among other things–sometimes the image of a tribunal whose conditioning method confines the regulated exercise of thought to the harmonious circle of subject and object (Kant), sometimes the image of the infinite effectivity of an auto-genesis designating the identity of world and consciousness (Hegel), sometimes the plane of immanence of a “forced” heterogenesis undergone by thought whose image of the dice throw conjugates creation and powerlessness in the new (Deleuze). Never subsumed in its solution, the question of the upheaval of thought out of chaos calls for the binding of all conceptual play, the whole ideative system, to the politics of thinking that subtends it and mobilises it. Since thought is never neutral but always extremely interested, it transports ahead of itself a politics of thinking; we will examine this engaged deployment of Deleuzian thought in light of his ontology explicitly opening onto a perspectivist reprise of the theoretical arrangements [dispositifs][ii] that have accentuated the history of philosophy under the theme of immanence.

The choice of an orientation of thought deciding what being is[iii] takes on in Deleuze, on the one hand, the figure of immanence, of ontological univocity and, on the other hand, the figure of a concatenation of certain philosophical arrangements. The political choice of immanence facilitates certain assurances (namely ontological equality) and constraints (namely asymmetrical difference) and orients the comprehension of the problems of pure difference, the transcendental event, and the co-genesis of being and thought. We shall interrogate two axial problems concerning an ontology of the event acquired from the univocity of being: on the one hand, the dramatisation of a thought of pure, unilateral, non-dialectical difference and, on the other hand, the meaning [sens] of an incorporeal transcendental sense, the vitalist stakes of a virtual event linked to the co-genesis of being and thought (under what constraints is a genesis of being and thought possible?). Rediscovering the problems that have motivated a conceptual construction placed under the sign of immanence will amount to interrogating the politics of thinking elaborated by Deleuze in his concatenation of certain philosophical arrangements (essentially the Stoics, Hume, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson), thereby inflecting the history of philosophy toward the question of the event. In other words, it will be a question of clarifying the politics at work in this singular pragmatics that operates by way of differentiating repetitions, heterodox captures, and connections of heterogeneous thought arrangements and that generates in this movement of “virtualisation” a new image of thought. If a thing has “as many senses as there are forces capable of taking possession of it[iv]”, the Thing History of Philosophy (with the exception of the aforementioned authors), which Deleuze estimates to be subjugated to the realm of representation, finds the unthought sense of its practice of recognition illuminated by these thinkers of becoming who unmoor themselves from this History. In the establishment of a genealogical reascension from the spheres of experience toward the transcendental, Deleuzian thought unleashes, through the discharge of the forces held therein, cryptic senses from an empire of representation, which holds sway over the repression of an ideal and intensive difference (i.e. a thought) that nevertheless insists in it. The ascent to the question of the genesis of being and thought will imply the position of a thought of difference that separates from critico-phenomenological difference and dialectical difference.

Such as Deleuze defines it, the image of thought is this movement of pre-orientation which posits the quid juris / quid facti distinction by its construction of a plane of immanence that selects what is worth the pain of being thought, i.e. the infinite movement of a thought affined to chaos. Given that the Deleuzian image of thought posits its intuitive outline in contradistinction to those of phenomenological peace and dialectical reflection, it will be a question of problematising the Deleuzian problematisation of dialectical difference, a question of dramatising anew the overall encysted scene that situates Hegel as Deleuze’s condemned, and a question of interrogating a phenomenology viewed as the doxic overcoding of Kantian critique. In sum, it is a question of more closely juxtaposing a discursive assemblage that seeks to posit itself affirmatively without being opposed to its other (Deleuze) with a dialectical regime ensconced in the figure of exclusive disjunction that cannot be replayed by the force of decontextualising virtualisations (Hegel). Following the tracing of an errant line diagonalising these two planes of immanence, we shall put the negative experimentation within which Deleuze confines the Hegelian system to the test: if the main problem of an equation between Being (declined in thought) and Event has led Deleuze to posit the concept of a difference subtracted from all dialectical retorsion, from all identitarian influence, the dice throw through which pure difference proves to be able to posit itself only by being opposed could indeed furl within its “fiat” the train of its double repulsion. A discrepancy between aim and truth involved in the experiment would emerge from then on: this experiment, swept away in its result, would collide with the grasping-in-reverse of its intention by a vanishing point, by a blind task, insofar as every determination ensures its consistency only by way of its negation. Albeit, rather than a return of the repressed, a capture by the dialectical boomerang, we will understand it in the sense of a persistence of the dialectical night coming to haunt the Deleuzian universe. If, as posited by Deleuze, difference in itself–affirmative, immediate, unilateral, with neither relation to itself nor to others–is defined as that which distinguishes itself from what does not distinguish from it (night of the groundless, of non-thought), the thought of an asymmetrical difference will operate a redoubling of what it thematises and will differentiate itself from what does not separate from it (dialectical thought), from what obsesses it and pushes it to struggle against this “essential, determined difference”. In this sense, the tightrope-walk of a thought beset by precariousness, turning its regime of maladjustment into the modality of its advance, convokes the image of thought as a forever-self-catching-fall and bears witness to the fact that its self-engendering proves to be subordinate to its negative expelled obverse, to the fact that the Deleuzian plane manifests under conditions of the phantasmatic, dogmatic, and totalising reflection it has never stopped warding off: dialectics. In this teeter-totter, there is no unilateral difference that does not fall under the backwash of its ground swell, a domination of the dialectical depths. As such, the Hegelian Logic and Phenomenology “raised” [“majorées”] by Deleuze, restratified into rigid architectures, exemplarily condense–in a singular paradox–the non-virtualisable rock, the inverted reserve of a non-countereffectuable, much more so than the dogmatic images of thinking established by Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, or phenomenology, insofar as the maximal tangent that borders dialectics and Deleuzian vitalism all the more imperatively called for their respective demarcation.

It will not so much be a question of saying that the Deleuzian arrangement is taken from behind by dialectics than a question of radicalising thought as determination equal to the night of the undifferentiated, as a monstrous difference dragged off into points of crisis, and then it will be a question of reading in this radicalisation the persistence of an intensive groundlessness, of an unthinkable chaos whose name, incidentally, is the “founding ungrounding[v]” of dialectics. What takes place in the Deleuzian night from whence thought emerges would advance under the pale colors of a dialectics explicitly slain for its transcendence, its doxic charge, and implicitly slain for its seating in the abyss. Dialectical thought thenceforth is nothing but the dark ground that “continues to espouse that which divorces from it[vi]”, that comes back up to the surface when the emergent form becomes the abstract line of a pure difference. In every actual sleeps the virtual, in every extension dwells an intensive force, just as in every unilateral difference unfurls a reciprocal difference that does not break off from what emancipates from it. The thought of pure difference and the thought of dialectical contradiction would be knotted together in a principle of continuity and would shed their leaves as the intensive and discursive variations of the same relation whose terms are drawn and quartered to the point of consisting in the passage to the limit of one another. The undetermined ground that the Hegelian economy of mediation constitutes relative to the ideal determination that shines forth in it can then become, under the angular variation of the same relation permuting its terms, the ideal abstract line adequate to the powerlessness of a henceforth Deleuzian groundlessness[vii]: dialectics can just as much compose the night and the unthought of Deleuze’s vitalist thought as the latter can compose the night of the former. In the delimitation of the pitfalls that lie in wait for thought, Deleuze has constantly emphasised and critiqued the temptation of chaos, the precautionary exercise of opinion, and the ascent into transcendence. Dialectics would have confined the exercise of thought to the field of doxa and the ascent into transcendence: its lethargic opinions and its infinite representation would disfigure immanence by situating it under the yoke of an immanence to Self. Beyond the analysis of the insufficiencies for which Deleuze reproaches dialectics (regime of opinion and of transcendence), we will accentuate the other silenced face, that of a Hegel verging on the chaotic groundless, whose abyssal side motivates a more subterranean fall into disgrace under the veiled, unconfessed reproach of an affinity with chaos. Under an explicit reproach would growl a strangely masked refusal, curiously disguised beneath the ethical gesture of “to have done with judgment”. It is less the system of judgment that happens to be disgraced by Deleuze than the dangerous betrothal of dialectics with the night of chaos, it is less the identitarian, totalitarian machinery that happens to be denounced than its wedding with the groundless. Within the doxic matrix in which Hegel is enclosed would whisper the wind of an unfeigned folly, of unreasoned sirens: it is this dialectical hand-to-hand of a self-indexical thought and of an untamed chaos that Deleuze would suspect of becoming a line of death due to the immersion of the concept in this night where all flowers are black…The exceedingly vast grip of dialectical thought and of its chaotic “front” would mortgage the emergence of thought, rendering it incapable of determining its groundlessness. Under tenuous grievances are staggered the sedimentations of other reproaches, like the intensive differences that Deleuze says are covered by their extensive “twin sisters”…Under the announced refusal is hidden a completely different kind of contestation. Diving into the suspicion with which Deleuze raises quite particularly vis-à-vis Hegel, we will operate a radiography of suspicion of the suspicion.

Chapter I will deal with evental ontology. We shall see that the choice of an ontological univocity implies the establishment of models of expression and differentiation/integration and a re-elaboration of the question of the transcendental of being and of thought which will pass through the constitution of a “higher empiricism”. The problem of ideal and ontological genesis will be approached at the level of passive syntheses, of becoming, and of its logical operators. The affirmation of a double eventality–with a virtual side and an actual side–will give rise to the examination of Stoic ethics to which it corresponds, by differentiation, with that of the beautiful soul. Finally, the extraction of thought from chaos will call for an emergence of the components of emptiness and infinity that characterize both the first and the second and will raise the related problems of the continuum, the “limit” and the “threshold”, the aporia of grounding and the setting down of the alternative between undifferentiated ground and forms.

Chapter II will interrogate the question of time. In this second part, we propose, as a first step, to analyze, from Difference and Repetition, Logic of Sense, Cinema 1: The Movement Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image, the traits of thought representative of time, and then to re-interrogate the scansions that Deleuze draws in the history of metaphysics with regard to their treatment of the question of time, namely those punctuated by Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel. We will adjoin an alternative reading of Hegel to this treatment. In a second stage, we will question the discursive montage through which Deleuze develops a direct image of time and connects the Stoic reading of Chronos and Aiôn, the pure, immobile form of Kantian time radicalized by Hölderlin, the eternal return on the other side of Nietzsche-Klossowski, the Bergsonian cone of a pure virtual past. In this telescoping of the Stoic, Kantian, Nietzschean, and Bergsonian chronosigns, we will see that, in his exegesis of Kant, Deleuze added the pure form of empty time to the sublime breakthrough and that this junction between, on the one hand, the immutable form of an empty time and, on the other hand, a sublime breakthrough (which, by its disaccord of the faculties, catalyzes a non-ordinal time), re-articulates the Stoic thought of Aiôn. The evental time interrogated by Deleuze is itself implemented in the construction of a plane superimposing the four temporal arrangements of the Stoics, Kant, Nietzsche and Bergson.

Chapter III will expose asymmetrical vitalist difference in its demarcation with respect to phenomenological difference and dialectical difference. This third part will be developed as follows: 1) emergence of the stakes of the problem of a pure difference, 2) symptomatology and genealogy of ontologico-phenomenological difference, and the illumination of it through Heidegger’s debate around Nietzsche, in a confrontation with the Deleuzian reading of a Nietzsche cut from the Heideggerian filter, 3) exposition of the Deleuzian evaluation confining Hegel within the circle of a reactive, doxic, transcendent thought, analysis of the points of rupture listed by Deleuze between Hegel and himself, and deduction of the philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic “models” of a dialectical difference, 4) presentation of the philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic “schemas” underlying the thought of a difference that is unilateral, pure, and indicative of the evolution of the motif of difference in Deleuze’s work.

Chapter IV will examine the image of thought created by Deleuze. In this fourth part, we will first expose: 1) the pitfalls encountered by thought (doxa, transcendence, chaos), 2) in a second stage, the features of the dogmatic image of thought, 3) the new image of thought constructed by Deleuze (immanence, creation, violence, powerlessness, and impersonality), his “phagocytic” capture, “anthropophagus” of the philosophies of Spinoza, Leibniz, post-Kantians (the point of view of survey and the real conditions of experience, equality of being and avoidance of the end…) and of Kant-Maïmon-Foucault (the form of time fracturing the thought of its being, finitude, the gap between integration and differentiation), 4) in a fourth stage, the joint genesis of being and thought (passage from chaos to thought, ideal synthesis of difference and asymmetrical synthesis of the sensible, individuation, spiritual automatism,brain-thought, and, in addition, the evolution of the Deleuzian reading of Mallarmé), 5) in a fifth stage, the indiscernible distinction between event and the state of things at the level of language, namely between meaning, expression, semiotic matter and linguistic proposition (semiology), and all of this will be put in a brief confrontation with the objections of F. Wahl and J. Rancière, 6) in a sixth stage, the virtualizing connections between Leibniz, Kant, and the post-Kantians that emerge in Deleuze’s arrangement, 7) in a seventh and last stage, the identification of the secret affinities between Hegel and Deleuze against the backdrop of a divergence of planes of immanence.

[i]  [These two titles in quotes refer to a lecture course by Heidegger and an essay by Kant, respectively.–Trans.]

[ii]  [This word in French is multifarious and ranges from the abstract to the concrete. It can variously mean “layout”, “arrangement”, “device”, “framework”, etc. Its broad range is indicated very well by Iain Hamilton Grant in his Translator’s Glossary to Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, wherein he writes, “Dispositif: although this term is conventionally rendered as ‘setup’, ‘apparatus’ and the like, this gives a somewhat banal mechanistic picture of Lyotard’s efforts. In Des Dispositifs pulsionels, we find the following passage: “The positivity of these investments must be affirmed, rather than the disparity and exclusion they produce – the positivity rather than the dis– of “dispositif”…It is the production of new libidinal operators that is positive.” The positif is also a positing, an investment, the ‘dispositif’ a disposition to invest, a cathexis. As such, the ‘dispositif’ is subject to economic movements and displacements, an aspect which the retention of the French term, by combining the dis-place with the dis-pose, movement with expenditure, helps to convey”. Cf. Lyotard, Jean-François. Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant. Indian UP: Bloomington, 1993, x. I have chosen, perhaps with a certain arbitrariness, the term “arrangement” to resonate with the notion of a musical arrangement; but here, insofar as it is the politics of thinking that is at stake, we should keep in mind Foucault’s elaboration of dispositives (“apparatuses”) as systems of (power) relations that weave together a heterogeneous multiplicity of elements ranging from the abstract to the concrete. Cf. the 1977 interview “The Confession of the Flesh” in Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, ed. Colin Gordon, 1980, 194-228. –Trans.]

[iii] “I call an orientation in thought that which regulates the assertions of existence in this thought (…) The whole point is that existence is in no way an initial donation. Existence is precisely Being itself in as much as thought decides it. And that decision orients thought essentially (…)  every grasping of Being, as related to existence, presupposes a decision that decisively orients thought without any guarantees or arbitration”. Badiou, Alain. Briefings on Existence: A Short Treatise on Transitory Ontology, ed. and trans. Norman Madarasz. State University of New York Press: Albany, 2006, p. 53, p. 55, p. 57. Where Badiou posits three political orientations of thought in terms of a constructivist thought, a transcendent thought, and a generic thought, Deleuze posits another typology that does not completely overlap with Badiou’s: doxic thought, transcendent thought, and immanent thought.

[iv] Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson. Continuum: London, 2002, p. 4.

[v] To reprise the interpretation of P.-J. Labarrière and G. Jarczyk relative to the “zu Grunde gehen”, cf. Hegeliana. Paris: PUF, 1962, p. 5.

[vi]  Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton. Columbia: Columbia UP, 1994, p. 28.

[vii] We envision this permutation of the terms of relation in the sense in which Isabelle Stengers posits it with respect to the sedentary-nomad couple: “Using ecology to implement the distinction between nomadic and sedentary implies two constraints: first, avoid negative definitions for categories (…), and create two positive categories in tension with one another; second, define both categories relative to a well-defined interaction. In other words, it is not a question of identifying “nomadic” and “sedentary” individuals but of identifying them only in relation to a given interaction, of creating a contrast whose scope does not exceed that interaction. Those who appear as “sedentary” on the basis of a given interaction may well take risks in an elsewhere foreign to the “nomads” who judge them. Within such spaces, these nomadic judges may be seen as hopelessly sedentary, desperately tied to a territory that assigns limits and conditions to the risks they boast of”. Stengers, I. Cosmopolitics II, trans. Robert Bonnono. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2011, p. 364.


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