The Virtual and the Future

Sorry there has been so little posting lately — but for the past several weeks, every free moment has been devoted to writing my talk for the Deleuze conference that is coming up this weekend. The subject of my talk is “Deleuze’s Encounter With Whitehead.” Unfortunately, I haven’t quite managed to finish the paper, or get to the end of what I am trying to say — but perhaps this is just as well, since the paper has also gotten too long, even if I finished I wouldn’t be able to get through it in the time provided.

The part I have finished — the part I will be giving at the conference — is really little more than “Whitehead 101 for Deleuzians.” I work through Whitehead’s notion of events, show how important this notion is for Deleuze’s own thinking of the event, and compare Whitehead’s and Deleuze’s treatment of some of their most important common predecessors (Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant). This leads up to a comparison between the virtual in Deleuze and the potential (also known as “eternal objects”) in Whitehead. I argue that both Deleuze’s virtual and Whitehead’s potential are “conversions” of Kant’s transcendental argument. They seek to define conditions of actual emergence instead of Kant’s conditions of (mere formal) possibility; but they join Kant in refusing to allow these conditions to be hypostasized as belonging to some radically other, transcendent realm. And they posit their transcendentals, not (as Kant does) to answer the epistemological question of how we can know, but instead to answer the (ontological? kairological? temporological?) question of how change is possible, or of how to account for a future that is not predetermined by the past.

However, this discussion is really just a preliminary to the argument that really interests me — and this is the part I have not written yet. I want to argue that Whitehead’s eternal objects offer us a better way to talk about change and becoming than the orthodox Deleuzian vocabulary of virtuality provides us with. And I want to suggest, similarly, that Whitehead’s notion of God provides a more useful alternative to Deleuze and Guattari’s formulations about the Body without Organs. Whitehead defines God – or at least what he calls “the primordial nature of God” – as the “graded envisionment” of all eternal objects, i.e. all potentials. The vision of God accounts for “how the actual includes what (in one sense) is ‘not-being’ as a positive factor in its own achievement.” Whitehead’s God, like the Body without Organs, is a non-totalizing and open “whole”, and can be regarded as the “quasi-cause” or “surface of inscription” for all events, in such a way that it does not determine these events, but allows precisely for their indeterminacy and continuing openness to difference in the future. But in a powerful way the notion of God (at least Whitehead’s notion of God, I don’t see how this would apply to anyone else’s) is a more flexible, more empirical, more pragmatic notion than D&G’s BwO is. Which means that it is, in a way, more accountable, more open to “temporal” considerations (like how to think the monstrous body of Capital) as well as to aesthetic ones (like how to conceive the affective qualities and implications of post-cinematic formal/technological developments). So I trying to ask Deleuzian questions — ones that Whitehead never thinks about — but arguing that these questions are better answered (or worked through) in Whiteheadian terms than in Deleuzian ones.

Will this work out or make sense? I don’t know. So far all I have is an intuition, and a project. I don’t know what will happen when I get the time to work through the actual argument.

Better post this now; I gotta go to the airport.

6 Responses to “The Virtual and the Future”

  1. glen says:

    hey this looks really cool. esp. the bit about the relation to Kant and both arguments as conversions. very useful for people like me without classical philosophical training.

    “Whitehead’s God, like the Body without Organs, is a non-totalizing and open “whole”, and can be regarded as the “quasi-cause” or “surface of inscription” for all events, in such a way that it does not determine these events, but allows precisely for their indeterminacy and continuing openness to difference in the future.”

    one thing that bugs me about what I have read of Delanda’s “assemblage theory” and based on his previous work is the way differentiation is collapsed into individuation. This misses the problematic quality of singularities and in part is a result of Delanda’s reliance on more of a natural sciences notion of singularity rather than a social or cultural singularity. He even calls them “universals” in _INtensive Science_ which seems extremely wrong-headed, for surely the singularities that matter are the ones which cannot be defined as such. My question is how do you move from (or perhaps ‘account’ for) the non-totalizing whole of Whitehead’s “primordial nature of God” with the necessary empirical specificity of co-determinate foldings of virtual-actual assemblages (or ‘societies’) belonging to processual or “‘temporal’ considerations”?

    One example I am thinking of is the singularity pertaining to the commodity and most often described by its hegelian-marxist name of the ‘spectacle’. where a historical tipping point occured in the aggregated structuration of exchange relations from production-based valuations to more of a cultural image- or event-based valorization of the commodity. (Isn’t it part of Lazzarato’s argument that in Islamic countries US consumer culture makes contact 20 years before imperial military forces through media/commodities/etc, which is the proximity to this singularity?) This singularity once passed seems to me cannot be counter-actualised, however what is unleashed is a certain freedom or mobility (object=x) of value. ala a perversion of Negri’s stuff, value itself is a problematic field dependent on the assemblages and lived rituals of valorization and the distribution of a constellation of singularities (from labour, consumption, commodification, etc). So within certain population segments the problematic field of value is actualised as apparent mutations of different functional relations depending on what is valorised (skilled labour, hedonist consumption, frugality, etc).

  2. Hi, Glen — thanks as always for your comments. And especially for pushing things re: Deleuze and Whitehead.

    Your question is a difficult one, for which I have no ready answer. I am in accordance with your qualms re: Delanda; though I found INTENSIVE SCIENCE so difficult that I wasn’t really sure I followed his argument most of the time (A NEW THEORY OF SOCIETY, which I blogged about a while ago, was much more comprehensible to me). As regards Whitehead, I think the point is that “eternal objects” are pretty much what traditional philosophers have called universals –they are stuff like qualities that can be attributed to subjects, or predicated of “subjects. As so often with Whitehead, he wants to say that earlier philosophical notions are not *simply* wrong — there is indeed something behind the theory of universals, whether in the guise of Platonic forms, or in the guise of the qualities attributed to “things” in the empiricism of Locke and Hume.

    Let’s see if I can get this right — it’s been too long since I read the empiricists. Redness, for Locke or Hume, is a universal that can be attributed, say, to an apple. We perceive the redness (together with other such qualities), and infer the existence of the apple as underlying thing or substance. Of course Whitehead rejects this sort of analysis, since he entirely rejects what he calls “subject-predicate thought” — it doesn’t get at the eventfulness of the apple’s existence, and it is what leads to Hume’s skepticism as to whether there even really is an apple (because Hume ignores causal efficacy, and analyzes only the distinct sensations of presentational immediacy).

    Yet of course Locke’s and Hume’s error is not simple idiocy. They are getting at something that *is* meaningful: the way in which our experience of “redness” (or of any percepts or sensa) has something strange about it, because we never see redness in itself apart from something that is red, yet we are able to posit it separately from the thing that is red. Subject-predicate thought, and the attribution of “secondary qualities” to substances, or of universals to otherwise charaterless things, is itself a symptom of a partial apprehension of the way things are. Whitehead will say, instead, that the ingression of redness is part of the event of the apple’s exisiting at a given moment; this is a way to stay true to what Locke and Hume have apprehended, only to state it more accurately. To say that redness is an eternal object whose ingression is part of the concrescence of the apple’s existing at a given moment is — aside from the difficulties that come simply from this use of a technical language made up of Whitehead’s neologisms — to try to define the special status of “redness” better. It seems to be a universal, in that it can be attributed in many diverse circumstances, and that it seems indifferent to these circumstances: “An eternal object is always a potentiality for actual entities; but in itself, as conceptually felt, it is neutral as to the fact of its physical ingression in any particular actual entity of the temporal world” (44).

    But Locke’s and Hume’s mistake is to not see that the actual occasion is not indifferent to the eternal object, in the way that the eternal object is indifferent to the occasion. Every event involves a “decision” in which a particular eternal object is taken up (or not) in a particular occasion; and this is why ingression is not quite the same thing as the attribution of a universal — this would be the point at which Whitehead converts universality to singularity, or presents a differentiation which is not merely an individuation, in the sense that you are distinguishing them (and pointing out that Delanda fails to distinguish them).

    Does that sound right? I am too tired to be certain that I am rendering this correctly (not to mention that I am in a hotel room at the moment, without my books, so I can’t really check).

  3. YES! I wish more people would do something with Whitehead. He seems to be the one blindspot that many Deleuzians won’t talk about. I also think that Whitehead is a great figure to unite (even though he certainly isn’t orthodox) continental and analytic forms of philosophy (perhaps via Merleau-Ponty?). I love this passage from _Science and the Modern World_ that, I think, goes with much of what you are saying (I’m quoting from the Free Press edition):

    “The parts of the body are really portions of the environment of the total bodily event, but so related that their mutual aspects, each in the other, are peculiarly effective in modifying the pattern of either. This arises from the intimate character of the relation of whole to part. Thus the body is a portion of the enironment for the part, and the part is a portion of the environment for the body: only they are peculiarly sensitive, each to modifications of the other. This sensitiveness is so arranged that the part adjusts itself to preserve the stability of the pattern of the body. It is a particular example of the favourable environment shielding the organism” (149).

    Is there any way you could send me parts of your presentation? I won’t be able to make it to the conference and I’m working on a paper where I am trying to speak to what I call apocalyptic sequentiality in Blake’s Dragon sequence. I need something that speaks to becoming in a way that is more radical than Deleuze. I thought about using Benjamin’s notion of jetzeit, but I’m thinking of sprinkling in some Whitehead…

    Oh, and I’m interested in the ways that Process (and Whitehead’s notion of God) can reinvigorate a horribly ineffective Marxist notion of the Dialectic. I saw Frederic Jameson over last weekend speak about the “Dialectic Today” from his new book on the subject. I was never so bored in my life! Talk about trying to resurrect a tired concept. I think that there needs to be a new way of thinking about how change and revolution happen without reference to the dialectic.

  4. Nathaniel Drake Carlson says:

    Hi Steven, fascinating stuff as always. I’ve been reading your work for some time now and can attribute my awareness of it to my relationship with Dr. Jay Mcroy. I’m pleased by your enthusiasm for Whitehead and wondered if you were familiar with his student, Charles Hartshorne. I assume you probably are. I came to Whitehead through Hartshorne and his immense, astonishing output. It’s a great, underappreciated philosophic vein and a very real hope for a future direction. I believe the impact is only beginning to be felt.

    BTW, and on a different point, I am hoping you will write something on Tarr’s Damnation as I noticed it was included in your film series. I’d love to read your thoughts on that (a film of Tarr’s I feel personally is undervalued, along with his great Almanac of Fall, as it’s overshadowed by his later work). Oh, and INLAND EMPIRE, too!

  5. Kirby Olson says:

    Did Whitehead have blackheads?

    Seriously, I think that Whitehead’s basic argument is Hegelian — that God is a process that begins differently than it ends. In theology they have something called Process Theology, which is just that — God is becoming.

    Most theologians have problems with this but it does imply progress, and so progressives are all over it. It would seem to fit with Deleuzian notions of becoming to some extent, but Process Theology people see God as growing up over time, maturing, and so on.

    Would Deleuze have had anything to say about blackheads?

  6. Jason Adams says:

    Hey Steven I just wanted to alert you to my new blog Zoepolitics at http://zoepolitics.blogspot.com/ if you’re down with a link exchange (I used to do Immanent Multiplicity), I read your stuff regularly – I am trying to include a YouTube clip with every post now…

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