In contrast to thinkers such as Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant and the static world that they envisioned, Gilles Deleuze, a French philosopher who taught at the University of Paris, emphasizes becoming, contingency, irony, play, difference, repetition, and chance. Deleuze advocates becoming a nomadic thinker with neither past nor future. A wandering, nomadic, erring type of journey leads to the embrace of difference and repetition. Therefore, Deleuze constructs an anti-Kantian model of thought that is aconceptual, nonrepre- sentational, disjunctive, and inchoate. With this type of impetus, Deleuze’s philosophy can be grasped within the context of the turn to difference that occurs in the 20th century with thinkers such as Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida.
If Deleuze is anti-Kantian, he is also antiHegelian in the sense that he is opposed to all closed or total philosophical systems. In a later work coauthored with Felix Guattari, titled What Is Philosophy? the job of philosophers is envisioned to be the creation of new concepts. Borrowing from Friedrich Nietzsche, Deleuze agrees that thought is a matter of creation, and truth is a creation of thought. This does not mean that philosophical concepts represent the truth independent of the plane of immanence upon which they are constructed. According to Deleuze, concepts are complex singularities and intensive multiplicities that do not represent anything. The creation of concepts occurs when a thinker determines a problem on a plane or set of pre-philosophical presuppositions, which he calls the plane of immanence. He also refers to it as the image of thought, by which he means an image that thought gives itself of what it means to think. The sources of truths are problems, which represent the differential elements of thought. More than merely questions to which thought provides answers, problems form the underlying and unanswerable questions that govern the creation of knowledge in a particular sphere.
Deleuze views his philosophy as a form of empiricism, which creates concepts in response to problems. Deleuze’s empiricism is also experimental, by which he means introducing thoughts and acts that change an individual perspective. At the same time, Deleuze wants to find hidden differences and the destruction of illusions of permanence. The solving of a problem merely transforms it and offers new challenges rather than breaking the cycle of ever newer problems. Therefore, we must find a way to live with a problem rather than thinking that we can solve it for the foreseeable future. The problem of time is an example of a difficulty that begs for a new conceptualization.
Time in Deleuze’s Thought
In his early major work Difference and Repetition, Deleuze considers three syntheses of time, which he considers in conjunction with the notion of repetition in each of them. By synthesis, Deleuze means a passive synthesis, or one that does not demand a representation of the sequence of moments to be synthesized within an active consciousness. Deleuze wants to overcome the representational mode of thinking because it is counter to the affirmation of real difference and is opposed to the eternal return. Therefore, Deleuze perceives a problem in the traditional way that philosophers have grasped repetition because it eventually culminates with identity, which renders it an equal, flat, and featureless timeline akin to a succession of moments.
The first synthesis of time is represented by circular time, which Deleuze identifies as the founding of time. Circular time is evident in mythical and seasonal time, which manifests a repetition of the same in the sense that it is a succession of instants governed by an external law. With circular time, a person experiences the present passing as moments cyclically because of the coexistence of past, present, and future. The repetition associated with circular time is concerned with habit, which is the passive synthesis of moments creating a subject.
Within this initial synthesis of time, repetition is not an objective property; rather, it is located in the experience, which is contradictory in the sense that prior moments are located in later instances. This scenario creates an expectancy because the repetition becomes synthesized in the present.
The second synthesis is identified with the foundation of time that Deleuze links with Kant, in which time is conceived as a straight line. With this second synthesis, the past coexists with the present, but it acts as a past that has been present. This scheme places events into time by not viewing a chain of events as constituting time because of the passing of present moments. If the present moment can pass away, it is because the present is already past, or it embodies a past element within it. From Deleuze’s perspective, the present moment already possesses a past element in order for it to pass away. By passing away, a present moment becomes a past event for any future present. Repetition assumes an active sense because it repeats something in memory that was previously nonexistent.
Within this second synthesis of time, habit does not play a role because nothing returns. Deleuze refers to this second synthesis as memory, which is not connected to the present as is habit. Memory is associated with the past, or that which has never been present. By synthesizing from passing moments, repetition plays a role by repeating something in memory that did not previously exist, although this feature does not save it from identity. An important philosophical consequence is the radical bifurcation of the subject into the self of memory and a self of experience.
The final synthesis of time is identified as the unfounding of time, in which a pure and empty form of time unfolds. This pure form of time for Deleuze is repetition, which does not represent identity or the same. Repetition is related to difference in the sense that when beings are repeated as something other, their difference is revealed. This scenario suggests that Deleuze adopts Nietzsche’s notion of eternal return, which is unrelated to habit. The advantage that Deleuze perceives in the eternal return is related to the fact that it does not suppress difference; rather, it represents a return of becoming and difference. In fact, it affirms difference even under the guise of multiplicity, becoming, and chance. This means that the eternal return is the repetition of that which differs from itself. This implies that whatever exists as a unity will never return; it is only that which is different from itself that can return.
Repetition possesses the power to accelerate or decelerate time, although this is something that cannot be intellectually grasped by an identity discovered in a concept or something similar in a process of representation. Being identified by Deleuze with the power of difference, the event of repetition disappears even as it happens because repetition lacks an in-itself, even though it possesses the ability to alter the mind that encounters it. Because repetition disappears as it appears, it is essentially unthinkable, incomplete, and cannot contain total reality.
If habit is the time of the present, or the always already becoming, and if memory, an old present, is the being of the past, repetition is the eternal return that is the time of the future. Pure repetition disturbs the repetitions of habit and memory and the paradox of the coexistence of past and present. This disturbance is related to the replacement of the linear succession of present moments and the cyclical recognition of revolving past moments by the eternal return of difference. Repetition is analogous to a dice throw, a risky act with an unknown result.
Moreover, Deleuze’s notion of time possesses important implications for traditional philosophical modes of thinking. If the present and its previous presents are not similar to two consecutive instants on a linear line of time, Deleuze’s conception of the nature of the present makes it difficult for representational thinking to work successfully because the present represents the former present instant and itself as a particular, and the past is presupposed by every attempt at representation. For the past and the future, representing dual asymmetrical elements of the present, this means that the past is caught between present moments, and it is futile to attempt to recreate the past from the present moments. Deleuze stresses the past as the foundation of time, and he acknowledges a basic paradox: the contemporaneity of the past with the present. A second paradox revolves around the coexistence of the moments of time, which results with the past being a synthesis of itself, the present, and future. This indicates that the present and future are mere dimensions of the past.
Another implication of Deleuze’s position is related to time and being. Because repetition is unconnected to continuation, perpetuation, or prolongation of something with an enduring identity, Deleuze equates being with difference and repetition. Deleuze associates this equation with the ambiguity and deceptive nature of the notion of origin. For Deleuze, there is no union between being and time because everything is radically relative, without ground, depth, identity, or universality. According to Deleuze, the genuine character of being is the simulacrum in which everything is reduced to differences, which fragments them. If everything becomes simulacrum for Deleuze, there can be no resemblance of time to ontology or space.
See also Derrida, Jacques; Descartes, Rene; Eternal Recurrence; Heidegger, Martin; Kant, Immanuel; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Postmodernism; Time, Cyclical; Time, Linear
Deleuze, G. (1983). Nietzsche and philosophy (H. Tomlinson, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press. (Original work published 1962)
Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and repetition (P. Patton, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press. (Original work published 1968)
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (R. Hurley, M. Seem, & H. R. Lane, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1972)