[Claude Monet's La Gare Saint Lazare (1877)]
In the preface to the English edition of Difference and Repetition (1968; 1994), Gilles Deleuze writes “that there is a more or less implicit, tacit or presupposed image of thought which determines our goals when we try to think” (xvi). This is the infamous image of thought that Deleuze critiques at the heart of the book as part of his more general critique of the image and of poststructuralism’s critique of (the philosophy of) representation. Despite seeking “a liberation of thought from those images which imprison it,” however, Deleuze does not completely dismiss the image (could he? see what Lacan says), especially with regards to “a new image of thought” (xvi-xvii). In fact, the critique of the image, it could be argued, rests precisely upon the proposal of an alternative, a new image. Could what is said of thought perhaps also be said of time? That is, do Deleuze’s thoughts on time amount to an image of it, an image, however, that, unlike the representations it critiques, does not pretend to be good, recognizable, and free of error, an image that does not pretend to a solution? Would it then evade imprisoning that which it is an image of, i.e. time?
What are these thoughts on time? Deleuze offers his most elaborate account in a chapter in Difference and Repetition called “Repetition for Itself,” a chapter that, as James Williams explains in a guide to the book, takes off from Deleuze’s discussion of founding difference—not only pure but moreover chaotic and random—to explain how things—pure differences—acquire any/some determinacy, stability, or consistency, allowing them to be identified or to gain some identity (84). This process of determination, Deleuze implies, has to do with or happens through repetition—never of the same and not driven by regularity—which leads him to a discussion of time, specifically of syntheses of time taking place on multiple levels. Repetition, after all, happens (makes sense?) in/through time. More precisely, as Deleuze writes, “time is constituted […] in the originary synthesis which operates on the repetition of instants [which] contracts [rather than reflects] the successive independent instants into one another, thereby constituting the lived, or living, present [… in which] time is deployed [and/or experienced?]” (70). Time, then, it seems, (at least on the first level) is constituted by repetition.
Williams delimits Deleuze’s concept of repetition by clarifying that “repetition is […] not an objective property,” i.e. it “is not a property of the repeated things since there is no causal relationship between different members of the series” or different instances of the repetition (i.e. in AB AB AB AB … repetition does not belong to or is not in A or B or AB) (87). Repetition happens instead or “is something in the experiencer,” creating (on the first level) what Williams refers to as an expectancy, what Deleuze describes as habit (87). Reading Hume, Deleuze writes, “repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind that contemplates it” (70). Deleuze calls this experiencer the contemplative mind or soul (in fact, subjects), which, however, is not the Cartesian subject certain of its distinction (“I …”) and sure of its ability (“… think”). Rather, repetition takes place in the contemplative self without it having to think about it consciously, i.e. repetition takes place passively in a process that Williams describes as the “acquiring [of] an unconscious relation to the future” and, more broadly, to time in general (87). This does not mean, however, Williams clarifies, that repetition requires an identity, a Cartesian subject, for it take place (i.e. “repetition [doesn’t] have to be for someone” (85)). In fact, underneath “fixed identities, including consciousness” and other actualities is the (virtual?) process of repetition “that cannot be thought of in terms of identities or objective facts” (85). In Deleuze’s words, “[repetition] is not carried out by the mind, but occurs in the mind which contemplates, prior to all memory and reflection” (71). In a very real sense then, as Deleuze would have it, repetition—neither of the object nor for the subject on which it is thought to depend—is for itself.
With this, Deleuze is able to distinguish “three instances” of “the constitution of repetition” (71). Repetition (unlike difference), Deleuze argues, has no (1). in-itself since as soon as an instance of the repeated thing (e.g. of AB) appears, the previous instance (of the same AB) ought to have disappeared otherwise repetition wouldn’t occur (70). In other words, repetition requires at least two instances in which what is repeated appears and disappears, repetition consisting precisely in the appearance (in the second instance) of what disappeared (in the first instance). There is thus no repetition in itself because repetition is constituted not in one instance (in itself) but precisely by the repetition disappearing and invoking another instance. The constitution of repetition is, rather, Deleuze clarifies, (2). for-itself since in the process of repetition, what constitutes it as such is (as described above) the passive synthesis of the imagination. Not denying the role of subjects, Deleuze adds that grounded upon this is (3). repetition for-us, repetition in which subjects are actively involved, as in acts of memory and understanding (71).
In this way, Deleuze distinguishes active repetition by subjects from repetition constituted by passive synthesis. Deleuze stresses, however, that active (recognition of or reflection on) repetition by subjects is based on repetition constituted by passive synthesis, i.e. repetition for-us relies on repetition for-itself. Passive synthesis, as it were, is the primary process that grounds active synthesis; active synthesis, however, (as in all actualizations of the virtual) tends to supplant the former and attribute to the subject repetition itself (constructing e.g. the image of the Cartesian cogito). To rectify this, Deleuze clarifies that “active syntheses of memory and understanding are superimposed upon and supported by the passive synthesis of the imagination” (71) (my emphasis). Illustrating the dynamics between the two, Deleuze describes how “the past [becomes] no longer the immediate past of [passive] retention [to be] the reflexive past of [active] representation, of reflected and reproduced particularity [produced by the subject’s memory]” (71). “Correlatively, the future […] ceases to be the immediate future of [passive] anticipation in order to become the reflexive future of [active] prediction, the reflected generality of the understanding” (71).
Having shown how active repetition (e.g. active remembering of past events) is secondary and derivative, Deleuze then delves into how the passive synthesis of repetition works, in the process theorizing time. Deleuze explains that, in the constitution of repetition, there are three passive syntheses taking place on different levels, i.e. the passive synthesis of the imagination consists in fact in three syntheses. Deleuze indicates the complexity of the process when he writes, “We must therefore distinguish not only the forms of repetition in relation to passive synthesis [i.e. whether the repetition is AB, AB … or A, A …] but also the levels of passive synthesis and the combinations of these levels with one another and [it should not be forgotten] with active syntheses [which are yet on another level, i.e. the conscious level]” (73). These different levels relate to one another through signs. “Each contraction, each passive synthesis,” Deleuze writes, “constitutes a sign which is interpreted or deployed in active syntheses” (73). The syntheses can be sensible and perceptual, organic, (in the case of active syntheses) psycho-organic … (72-3). Williams classifies the different syntheses into: “the passive synthesis of time as condition,” “the passive synthesis of repetitions of sensations into a sense,” “the passive synthesis of different sensations into the sensation of a thing,” and “the active synthesis that [subjects] operate consciously” (89).
Reading Hume, Deleuze describes the first passive synthesis of repetition as the formation of a habit with the “expectation that ‘it’ will continue, that one of the two elements will appear after the other, thereby assuring the perpetuation of our case” (74). A habit is thus a contraction, a (passive) synthesis, in the sense that the successive, repeated instances are fused through habit in the contemplating mind (74). In this contraction, a “contemplative soul [is conceived, a soul] whose entire function is to contract a habit” and which, Deleuze adds, does “not contemplate [it]self […] but exist[s] only in contemplating” (hence not a Cartesian cogito) (74). Thus continuity is accorded in the form of the contemplative soul by habit. In fact, Deleuze claims, “we have no other continuities apart from those of our thousands of component habits, which form within us so many superstitious and contemplative selves, so many claimants and satisfactions,” thereby conceptualizing not so much a contemplative self as contemplative selves (from soul or mind, how do they become selves? why not subjects?) (75).
In this contraction that accords continuity, “habit,” Deleuze further claims, “draws something new from repetition—namely, difference” (73). Perhaps Deleuze is referring here to actions or thoughts (on the level of active synthesis, the conscious, actual level) performed (by the subject) on the second instance (the repetition strictly speaking) because of expectations formed after the first (the ‘original’ instance); in the sense that they were not part of the first instance, these actions or thoughts that arise only with expectancy/hindsight are new, perhaps making a difference. This is in line with Deleuze’s discussion in the following paragraph in which he writes, “To act [in actuality] is never to repeat,” i.e. there is always expectancy that changes, draws difference from/in, the repetition (at the level of the actual); “[that actual act, however,] refers to [virtual] repetition as the hidden basis on which it is constructed,” i.e. difference in actual repetition is made possible, constituted, by habit, which is formed as a synthesis in passive, virtual repetition (75). In this Deleuze reinforces the difference between the actual subject/self and the contemplative mind/soul or larval selves/subjects: “Underneath the [actual] self which acts are little selves which contemplate and which render possible both the action and the active subject” (75).
Responding to the issue more directly, Deleuze writes that difference is “the for-itself of repetition,” equating difference with the imaginary, which Deleuze clarifies is not false but on the contrary points back to his assertion that “true repetition takes place in the imagination” (hence the passive synthesis of the imagination) (76). “Difference lies between two repetitions” and in the process inhabits them, Deleuze elaborates: “difference allows us to pass from one order of repetition to another [i.e. from passive to active synthesis …] and from one order of repetition to another and from one generality to another within the passive syntheses themselves” (76). There is, Deleuze implies, an intimate connection between difference and repetition in that difference is what allows passage in repetition, perhaps repetition’s passage (from one level of synthesis to another and thereby from one instance, one repetition, to another?). Williams makes sense of this by explaining that “there is no repetition of the same thing for any other thing, only an open variation that occurs with an individual” (variation refers to difference; repetition, or determination as somewhat stable, is constituted by/as the individual that envelops variation, i.e. what repeats is the individual in which variation occurs, the individual which is a pure difference?) (92). Williams elaborates that “repetition is really the alteration of relations between different pure differences,” which means that the role of repetition is to determine “those relations through their alteration” (92). Just as difference allows repetition’s passage, then, repetition determines (in the process alters) the relation of differences with each other. Repetition does this, it seems, in a process of individuation, i.e. through/in the individual that is both difference and repetition.
This first passive synthesis of repetition (which, it must be remembered, takes place in the virtual, i.e. is not an actual experience) is then linked by Deleuze to what can be referred to as the first synthesis of time, which, as in the case of repetition, is a certain (virtual) functioning (of) time. “Th[is] synthesis of time,” Deleuze writes, “constitutes the present in time,” more precisely “time as a living present, [with the present alone as what exists and with] the past and the future as dimensions of this present” (76). Time on the level of the first passive synthesis, i.e. this present in time or time as (only) the present (with the past and the future as dimensions), is described by Deleuze in terms of its defining characteristic: “this present passes” (76). He elaborates that the first synthesis of time “necessarily forms a present which may be exhausted and which passes, a present of a certain duration which varies according to the species, the individuals, the organisms, and the parts of organisms under consideration” (77).
Williams makes sense of Deleuze’s assertion that the present passes by interpolating it with his discussion of habit, perhaps also looking back at Husserl’s theory of the present pregnant with both the past and the future (through retention and protention). Williams writes, “The condition for the lived present is the passive synthesis of time where the past is synthesi[z]ed, or contracted, in the present as a behaviour towards the future,” in that process constituting expectancy and habit (87). Williams hints at Deleuze’s allusion to the direction of the arrow of time by concluding that this then “gives the present a direction from past to future” (87). Illustrating how this works through repetition, Williams elaborates that “when we repeat an act in the past […], the series of repetitions becomes synthesi[z]ed in the present […] as a forward looking movement” into further acts or repetitions, but (this time) with certain expectations and as determined by habit, which, he adds, “is only possible because there is a passive synthesis of time—the past is projected into the future through the present” (87). Repetition, then, synthesized (on the first level) as habit functions according to a time that synthesizes (again, on the first level) past repetitions in the present that turns to the future.
His linking of the present’s passing with its duration leads Deleuze to a discussion of different time-scales which, he argues, “will vary according to the natural contractile range of its contemplative souls” (77). This allows him to portray fatigue as “a real component of contemplation” and “need [as] mark[ing] the limits of the variable present” (77). This leads to the clarification of how contemplation and habit are defined or, more precisely, how they define:
All our rhythms, our reserves, our reaction times, the thousand intertwinings, the presents and fatigues of which we are composed, are defined on the basis of our contemplations. The rule is that one cannot go faster than one’s own present—or rather, one’s presents. (77) (Contemplation, specified/measured by fatigue and need, defines how the contemplating self functions in time, or how the contemplative self’s time functions.)
Contemplations are questions, while the contractions which occur in them and complete them are so many finite affirmations produced in the same way as presents are produced out of the perpetual present by means of the passive synthesis of time. […] To the first synthesis of time there corresponds a first question-problem complex as this appears in the living present (the urgency of life). This living present, and with it the whole of organic and psychic life, rests upon habit. […] These thousands of habits of which we are composed—these contractions, contemplations, pretensions, presumptions, satisfactions, fatigues; these variable presents—thus form the basic domain of passive syntheses. (78) (On one side, perhaps on the side of repetition, there is contemplation-contraction; on the other there is the synthesis of time, the living present, the present that passes. Time synthesized as the living present is composed of, constituted by, habit, repetition’s first synthesis.)
Having argued that all that there is (in the first synthesis) is the present (as indicated by his emphasis away from the past fact toward the present fact of having been (77)), which, moreover, he suggests is characterized by the fact that it passes, Deleuze is led to reflect: how can this present constitute time while at the same time “passing in the time constituted” (79)? Can this present really perform both roles of constituting time at the same time passing in this time constituted, the time that it is supposed to be constituting? How can the present constitute time and at the same time pass in the time (not yet or still in the process of being) constituted? Deleuze deduces from this that “there must be another time in which the first synthesis of time can occur,” leading him to conceptualize a second synthesis of time (79). This would, among other things, “show why the present passes, or what prevents it from being coextensive with time” (79). Deleuze implies here, seemingly contrary to a previous claim, that the present is not the same as time, that the present does not exhaust time, leaving the possibility of there being something in time other than the present, something that is not just a dimension of this present (79). If habit, the first synthesis (at this point, it seems that the syntheses of time and of repetition are conflated with each other), is the foundation of time (originary), there is, Deleuze proposes, also a ground of time (fundamental), which “is what causes the present to pass, that to which the present and habit belong” (79). Deleuze calls this second synthesis memory, which is not the same as active memory (which takes place in active synthesis, on another level). It is rather, like habit, a passive synthesis, but which, distinct from habit, “constitutes the being of the past (that which causes the present to pass)” (80).
[To be continued ...]