Thursday, August 30, 2007

rhizomes.06 spring 2003

Opaque Melodies that Would Bug Most People: a Short History of Dislocation 
in Six Tracks
Darren Tofts

[1] I'm sure that everyone can think of something in the name of culture that continues to trouble them, infuriates them in its refusal to resolve into meaning, coherence and closure. I'm talking about those moments of aesthetic engagement with opaque melodies that would bug most people. [1] I'm talking about a poetics of dislocation. In referring to a poetics of dislocation, rather than pointing to a historical epoch characterised by dislocation, I am citing an ongoing continuum, a trans-historical, para-cultural sensibility, or, as Aristotle would have it, a way of doing things.

[2] Dislocation in the arts has a long history. It is a history that converges with our contemporary informatic moment: a quantum, post-media moment when you can be here and there at the same time, a vectoral moment in which there is no longer any there, there, to begin with. In the age of the internet, location itself has become mobile, decentred, fragmented. Communications networks have modified the way we relate to locality and presence. As Scott McQuire has noted, we are still struggling to come to terms with the strange valencies that telepresence brings with it, even as we spend more and more time in cyberspace (McQuire, 2002). New media artists have also been exploring the perverse locutions of dislocation for some years now and their work, like the work of new media theorists, actively engages with the emerging unconscious of the cyber age: and, yes, it is indeed an unconscious structured like a language, this unsettling "grammar for being elsewhere". [2]

[3] I have been interested in exploring the historical unconscious of this unconscious for many years now, but principally in two books, Memory Trade. A Prehistory of Cyberculture, in collaboration with artist Murray McKeich, and Parallax, a collection of essays on art, culture and technology. But these works weren't actually books. They were masquerading as books, and were in fact examples of one of the most prominent contemporary forms of dislocation, the compilation tape. True compilations, like collage, are eclectic, bringing together items drawn from different contexts, different locations, into a contextual dislocation. That is, to dislocate is not to separate or disintegrate, but rather to re-locate something in another context, often, as in collage, in surprising, even disturbing ways. Montage, as distinct from collage, is perhaps less dramatic, in that it provides links that are absent in collage; so, for example, as distinct from my compilation tape, montage synthesises the thematic "best of" or "greatest hits", in which a particular artist or style provides the contiguity lacking in the true or eclectic compilation (for example the best of funk, punk, or, god forbid, Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest hits). Media cross-dressers, these works were assemblages of ideas pertinent to me in thinking, in the former, about the foundations of cyberculture in alphabetic literacy as a technology of distance and, in the latter, of new media aesthetics as a continuation of the historical avant-garde, whereby Stéphane Mallarmé, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage are contemporaries of digital artists rather than models the latter would want to succeed.

[4] This essay, equally a masquerade, is the most recent title in my series of explorations into the co-evolution of cyberculture and new media arts practice. Like any compilation tape, it is un-apologetically selective, provisional and highly idiosyncratic. It is made up of tracks that have a resonance for me within a specific act of critical speculation about dislocation and aesthetics. In thinking about the tracks I would include on my latest release, I wanted to bring together selections that would underscore an attitude to dislocation as a way of doing things, or, to use Suzi Gablik's words, a form of aesthetic making (Gablik, 1995). In particular, I wanted to counterpoint a historical tendency towards aesthetic dislocation that is specifically pertinent to an understanding of the contemporary phenomenon known as new media art. This tape can be played on monaural or stereophonic equipment.

figure 1: John Zorn

Track One: "Never Sweet or Satisfied"

[5] One of the axioms of cyberculture is that the speed of telecommunications is dramatically impacting upon our senses, creating a hyper-sensory cognitive relationship to the world that is at once influenced by speed and at the same time attuned to it, that is turned on to it. John Zorn, the American experimental jazz composer, is an artist whose work dramatically represents this sensibility. Steeped in the history of American experimental music -- John Cage, Charles Ives and Harry Partch -- Zorn's early work in the 1970s was already attuned to questions of atonality, noise, genre transgression and disjunctive structure. Since that time he has actively experimented with the creation of discrete sonic moments that can be combined together. These moments, along with the principles of combination that bring them into juxtaposition, do not prioritize original composition over pastiche or sample, ambient noise or snippet of radio. In this it's no accident that one of Zorn's formative influences was Jean-Luc Godard, whose signature jump-cut represented for Zorn the collision of isolated, dislocated moments that he was interested in exploring in his composition and performance.

[6] When I first heard Zorn's music in the mid '80s (it was his tribute album to Ennio Morricone, The Big Gundown), it had a profound and urgent impact on me. In fact, as they say in the Sutras, it knocked my fucking socks off. In retrospect, I now realize I was listening to one of the first examples of music produced by and for a hypermediated sensibility. At the time, I remember feeling that this guy was someone who had watched lots of television and bulk cartoons to boot. Even before the information age, mass media had produced its own kind of hypermediated sensibility and Zorn's music of the '80s, on the cusp of the computer revolution, evidenced the convergent and co-evolutionary, rather than revolutionary nature of the poetics of dislocation (it's worth remembering in this context that McKenzie Wark's seminal 1994 text Virtual Geography, in which he outlined his familiar vectoral model of media, was concerned with television and not the computer network).

[7] Concentrational entropy was said to be one of the pathological conditions of watching too much television, one of its more famous sufferers being Homer Simpson. For Zorn, however, this is not so much a condition to bemoan, but rather a recognition of the complexity of media flows and the surprising flexibility of the ways in which we have adapted to them. As he indicated in the liner notes to his 1988 recording Spillane:

I've got an incredibly short attention span. In some sense, it is true that my music is ideal for people who are impatient, because it is jam-packed with information that is changing very fast. But it also takes a little patience because if you get to something you don't like, you have to wait ten seconds or so until it turns into something else. Pacing is essential. If you move too fast, people tend to stop hearing the individual moments as complete in themselves and more as elements of a "cloud effect". In fact there are sections in Spillane that are two or three minutes long. Here, I've offset the speed with something slow -- like the rain scene at the end of the piece -- to give the speed perspective and meaning (Zorn, 1988).

A self-proclaimed media freak, growing up in New York City, watching movies and TV and buying hundreds of records, Zorn acknowledges the heterogeneous nature of the media that he has avidly consumed: "There's a lot of jazz in me, but there's also a lot of rock, a lot of classical, a lot of ethnic music, a lot of blues, a lot of movie soundtracks. I'm a mixture of all those things" (Zorn, 1988). Zorn's music combines a diverse range of musical styles, from be-bop, bossa nova and country and western, to reggae, hardcore, thrash-metal and free-form jazz. At once dislocated and dislocating, it is, as one commentator has noted, "[a]brasive, loud, fast, unpleasant, disjunctive... never sweet or satisfied in the conventional sense" (McNeilly, 1995, 3). Describing Zorn's music as an "ugly beauty", the same writer, in an essay on Zorn published in Postmodern Culture, cites Linda Hutcheon's concept of postmodern parody to theorize Zorn's practice. While sensitive to the opaque, infuriating aspect of Zorn's replication of "mass-media noise making", he adds that it can and does "lead to a vision of interconnectedness" (19). This ambivalence towards dislocation reflects one of the truisms of the information age: and that is, whether listening to John Zorn's music or communicating with remote others via email or IRC, interconnectedness is very much in the eye and ear of the beholder.

figure 2: Carl Stalling

Track Two: "You Ought to Be in Pictures"

[8] One of the great, unsung precursors of non-linear editing and compositing is the novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov used a system of file cards to create his plot structures, shuffling and shifting pieces of detail here and there to endow the linear technology of the book with temporal syncopations akin to music; dislocations that would align dramatic and surprising thematic moments. Like Nabokov, John Zorn also used file cards as a system of composition, to exploit the unexpected tensions of adjacent moments, of sound being pieced together on the principle of juxtaposition rather than linear, thematic development: that is, the Forsterian concatenations of "and then, and then, and then". I've absolutely no idea whether Zorn was familiar with Nabokov or not, but he admits to an important influence on his approach to structure, Carl Stalling.

[9] Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Carl Stalling wrote the music for the classic Warner Brothers cartoons that John Zorn was weaned on. "At that time", he notes with the certainty of conviction, "neither Cage nor Harry Partch came close to what Stalling was doing". Zorn described Stalling's music as a "constantly changing kaleidoscope of styles, forms, melodies, quotations", adding that his music, when listened to in isolation from the image, constantly throws you off balance, "yet there is something strangely familiar about it all" (Zorn, 1988) (dislocation, once again, as both dis-inter and integration). For Zorn, Stalling's significance was in his shift from traditional rules of composition, such as the development of theme and variations on a theme, etc, to following the visual logic of the action on screen, which included rapid shifts in tempo and style, as well as the sonic description of often frenetic visual events.

[10] The aggressive staccato attack of Stalling's sublime compositions is a product of working in bits at a time, in bits of time -- persistence of vision, we should not forget, is the measure of our interactive role in animation, which deals in discrete frames of subliminal difference. Norm McCabe, an animator at Warner Brothers during Stalling's time there, provides a fascinating insight into how Stalling worked:

Generally speaking, Stalling was in on the film almost from the beginning. After the storyboard was finished, we'd take the whole thing in there for a little session with Carl and talk it all over first. He was never short of musical ideas, but still might ask if I had a suggestion for a piece of music in a given sequence, and he'd really listen. Or else he'd look at the storyboard and say, "Let's put this scene on 8's, or on 10's, or on 12's," or whatever -- meaning using a 8-, 10-, or 12-beat for particular character actions. By the end of the session, Carl would have set the tempos for the entire cartoon (McCabe, 1990).

Stalling actually composed in a manner that Zorn was many years later to call "block structure" (Zorn, 1988). Consistent with the co-evolutionary nature of the aesthetics of dislocation, we can read John Zorn's account of his own method of composition as a palimpsest of Carl Stalling's method: I developed my [way of putting music together] very early on -- the idea of working with blocks. At first maybe the blocks were more like just blocks of sound... noisy improvisational statements, but eventually it came back to using genre as musical notes and moving these blocks of genre around... (McCabe, 1995, 8).The idea of block structure -- and specifically of the block of sound in and of itself -- occupies an important place in the aesthetics of avant-garde practice, as Deleuze and Guattari have noted. In referring to the music of Pierre Boulez in A Thousand Plateaus, they emphasize that the sound block has no point of origin, "since it is always and already in the middle of the line; and no longer has horizontal and vertical coordinates, since it creates its own coordinates". Carl Stalling's block structure is an example of what Deleuze and Guattari call a "multilinear system", a system that dismantles, disrupts, dislocates: a system abounding in new media (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, 296). It only dawned on me recently that when I first started teaching my students basic html in the early 1990s, using nothing more than Microsoft notepad and a little code, I was introducing them to something more than the language of new media. In the structural logic of an htm file, which is an assemblage of separate, different file types (htm files, jpgs, avis, etc), simply linked together by a principle of connection, these students were tracing a mode of avant-garde composition that had previously been practiced in relation to experimental music and animation.

figure 3: Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica

Track Three: "Uh Shit, How Did That Harmony Get in There?" [3]

[11] How far can dislocation be pushed? At what point does something become truly un-listenable, un-watchable, unbearable? Is there such a point? The history of the avant-garde abounds with wonderful stories of such distress, from the riots at the first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, to the woman who interrupted one of John Cage's performances crying out, "John, I love you, but I can't take any more of this". One of my students many years ago told me that she had thrown her copy of Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveler into the bin and demanded to know if I was deliberately trying to mess with her mind. "I wish I could claim the credit", was my unwelcome reply.

[12] When Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band released their fourth album, Trout Mask Replica in 1969, it engendered the kind of response that I am getting at here, the sense of being a bout de souffle, breathless, at the end of the tether. "A common response to this album", writes one commentator, "is initial hatred" (Sherill). "Some may find this album so disturbing as to be unlistenable", wrote another (Seigal, 1983).

[13] Like Zorn and Stalling, Beefheart was a genre transgressor, drawing on and bringing into dense, frenzied collision a dizzying array of musical styles and influences, from free-form jazz, Delta blues, African chant rhythms, to squealing noise for its own sake. While the effect is much coarser than Zorn or Stalling, the music onTrout Mask Replica nonetheless emerges out of a similar vision of calculated discordance, determined dislocation. In an attempt to redress what he called "public incomprehension", Lester Bangs, reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, described Beefheart as "the only true dadaist in rock" and asserted that Trout Mask Replica, "difficult and rough as it is, proceeded from a unique and original consciousness" (Bangs, 1969). Sounding very much like Samuel Beckett in his spirited 1928 essay on James Joyce, chiding the whingers who found Finnegans Wakeunreadable, [4] Bangs drew attention to the disciplined nature of the album's recalcitrance, or what another critic referred to as the "manifestation of forethought and precision masquerading as anarchy". Another masquerade, you will note, and another instance of dis-integration as integration.

[14] In this respect Trout Mask Replica takes all available musical genres and foregrounds them as genre through abrupt and aggressive juxtaposition. This is the kind of "organized violence" that Roman Jakobson had in mind when he was theorising literariness, that quality of writing that makes something literary rather than simply linguistic. Dick Larson, reviewing Trout Mask Replica in 1969, described how Beefheart and his band "tear and slash at the guts of their music, ripping its lungs out, grinding and crushing the bones, then pull it all together again in a couple of bars" (Larson, 1969). Beefheart defamiliarises and revives the "tired-out bullshit conventions of every contemporary musical field", Larson asserts, noting that the "real value of the music is its texture, its depth, and the subtlety of reaction between rhythms and melodies -- harsh as they may seem". And this is the point about organized violence, certainly as Jakobson had theorized it. Literariness was not merely the quality that distinguished poetics from pragmatics, it was the guarantee and promise of linguistic richness, of polysemy. "Great literature", wrote Ezra Pound in his ABC of Reading, "is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree" (Pound, 1973, 28). Pound also identified the "endless return" as the mark of literariness, a force identified early on in the reception of Trout Mask Replica that prevails today.

[15] This sense of unending, the perception that a text is never complete, never exhausted of meaning and able to be continuously re-read, combined with the notion of an ongoing, even life-long commitment to a work, seems to be lacking in contemporary culture, as writers such as Sven Birkert's, in his Gutenberg Elegies, have asserted. But as critics of hypertext fiction have noted, it is exactly this kind of commitment to the open text that hyperfiction has revived. In hypertext theory we encounter a conception that hypertext, by its very nature, heralds a new age of re-reading, a new covenant between reader and text that will last a lifetime, a new generation of ideal readers with ideal insomnias.

[16] "Determined listening", that's what is required to come to terms with the cacophonous polyphony of Trout Mask Replica, according to one commentator (Sherill). The hypertext theorist Jane Yellowlees Douglas has said something similar of her account of four separate readings Michael Joyce's hyperfiction Afternoon, a story. "As I completed each reading", she notes, "I remained painfully aware that my reading represented only one among many actualisations of the narrative's constellation of possibilities" (Yellowlees Douglas, 1994, 165). Each reading necessitates a re-reading: a binary structure of feedback as much as an attitude to determined reading. A reader whose mnemonic bookshelf includes texts such as James Joyce's Ulysses, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and Alain Robbe-Grillet's In the Labyrinth, Yellowlees Douglas concludes that reading electronic hyperfictions such as Afternoon require practices "translated directly from reading print narratives and... strategies which embrace the text as an interactive narrative existing in virtual, three-dimensional space" (172). It was exactly this anticipation of the text as cybertext, as an ergodic, interactive re-reading, that we hear in Keats' sonnet of 1816, "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer".

figure 4: Samuel Beckett

Tracks Four & Five: Medley -- "Consistent Oxymoron: When Is a Non-space a Space?"

[17] This dialectic of disintegration and integration, dislocation as the creation of new locations, draws attention to the recombinant nature of a poetics apposite to the age of decentred networks and telesthesia. Connectivity is what digital technology is all about and so too is recombination, or remediation, to use Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin's useful term. [5] Dislocation is temporal, as we have seen so far, but it is also spatial. The digital age has been predominantly focused on the spatial dimension of recombinant, connective technologies, a preoccupation crystallized in the totemic cyberspace of the computer network. We hear precious little, unfortunately, of cybertime. As a spatial utopia or nowhere, cyberspace resounds with the cache of novelty. There has been insufficient attention to the temporal dimension not only of cyberspace, broadly defined in terms of computer mediated communications, but also of virtual environments, which involve a profound and complex form of temporality. The idea of the virtual space as a non-space, yet a space of navigation, contemplation and immersion, can be likened to a kind of hibernation, in terms of temporality, as any linear progression of time is warped or distorted by the lack of definable co-ordinates or sequences that one actually has to follow or traverse. I'm thinking here of something like Char Davies' Osmose or Melinda Rackham's Empyrean (exhibited as part of the Under_score exhibition hosted by the Brooklyn Academy of Music), [6] and even more relevantly, James Turrell's quite extraordinary installation of virtual light, Between That Seen. My experience of this work was not only a spatial one, but a profoundly temporal one, in that time seems to stand still. It is a kind of enveloping void that subsumes the senses into a kind of frozen present. The work, and in particular the title, put me very much in mind of one of the great creators of virtual space, Samuel Beckett. From Waiting for Godot to the later tele-plays, Beckett's dramatic works were subtle and troubling evocations of time and space, not conceived as a continuum, but rather as a something like a black hole: a nether zone of neither being here nor there. As Robbe-Grillet eloquently wrote of Beckett's drama, citing Heidegger, the key to his work is to be there, to be present on the stage (Robbe-Grillet, 1965, 111). But in this he only gestured to half of the drama in Beckett's theatre. The real drama resided in the problematic of there being no there, there, the space of writing, of telephony and telesthesia generally: a time space, in other words, of the perpetual present. You will all note the deliberate allusion to William Gibson's talismanic description of cyberspace from Mona Lisa Overdrive as an abstract, oxymoronic zone of problematic presence: "there's no there, there". I cite this ostensibly to evidence the importance of Beckett's pre-digital understanding of the nature of the virtual. But my other reason for doing so is to focus on the problem of the oxymoron.

[18] There's no there, there. I think Beckett would have approved of that line, though in his last years his thoughts increasingly turned to his beloved cricket and Jameson whiskey more so than cyberpunk fiction. There is considerable overlap, though, across the more discursive critical pronouncements made on behalf of the virtual and Beckett's niggardly and usually terse articulations of his own aesthetic practice. Consider the following statement of his understanding of the creative act, offered to the French publisher Georges Duthuit, in 1948:

The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express (Beckett, 1976, 103).

Ok, so what are we left with after such relentless contradiction? This was the situation facing a generation of Beckett scholars who were so baffled by irresolvable contradictions inherent in Beckett's conceptions of the relations between time and space, speech and selfhood, technology and memory, that the only way to write about his work was to do just that, write about it, around it, of it, as opposed to actively engaging with it in ways that elicited some critical understanding of it, without compromising or watering down its contradictory complexity. Out of the "fatuous clamour" of the Beckett industry emerged one text that, I would argue, articulated more than most an active engagement with this complexity; a book written by a critic more readily associated with the London Film Co-Op and the underground film scene of the late 1960s than with Samuel Beckett scholarship. In other words, a book on Beckett by a writer dislocated from one context to another.

figure 5: Peter Gidal

[19] As a practitioner and theorist of materialist film, Peter Gidal described himself as someone who deals with "the inexpressible"; an aesthetic of "non-interpretive art" that he outlined in a wonderful piece published in Studio International in 1974 called "Beckett & Others & Art: A System" (Gidal, 1974, 183). This piece is prefaced by Wittgenstein's dictum that "What expresses itself in language, we cannot express by means of a language. What can be shown, cannot be said". These severe restrictions on the translatability of the expressible, on the presentable and the representable, are suggestive of the rigours of Beckett's work. "What am I to do, what shall I do, what should I do, in my situation, how proceed?" asks the narrator of the third novel of Beckett's trilogyThe Unnamable: "By aporia, pure and simple?" is the uncertain response, "Or by affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered". It was this oxymoronic tension that had eluded most of Beckett's commentators. In wanting to "accommodate the mess", to use Beckett's own term, without resolving its relentless contradictions of subjectivity, enunciation and presence, Gidal exploited in his 1986 book Understanding Beckett a quality that had been the hallmark of his writings on materialist film: a quality that his colleague Deke Dusinberre called "consistent oxymoron" (Dusinberre, 1977). In a 1977 article published in Screen, Dusinberre described Gidal's "rhetorical strategy" in terms of a dislocated, disjointed style of writing of idiosyncratic rhythms, repetition, contradiction, obsessive interpolation and intrusive quotation. The overall effect, in Dusinberre's words, is a "fragmentary composite of subjective voices" (81). Such a description effectively accounts for the style ofUnderstanding Beckett. On the basis of a mimetic conception of criticism aspiring to cogency, analysis and argumentation, Understanding Beckett is unreadable, opaque and tortuous. The entire book (250 pages, excluding notes) is a sustained collage of fragmented quotation, comprising Beckett's writing (principally his dramatic works), theoretical and polemical writings and a miscellany of annotated typescripts, reported conversations, letters and photographs. It is perhaps more accurate to describe it as intermedia or mixed-media art than criticism; or more specifically, as Susan Sontag had said of Godard's films, an art work doing the work of an essay: one medium doing the work of another, or, remediation, by any other name. Moreover, along with Ted Nelson's key manual of hypermedia theory, Literary MachinesUnderstanding Beckett eschews any authorized or linear way of being read. "As with many books", Gidal notes in the Introduction, all of three lines, "it might be useful not to start at the beginning. Perhaps Chapter XVIII or XX, and certainly the Notes (pp.251-78). Then from p.1".

[20] Theoretically, Gidal's book is a kind of indirect free style, or imitative form, that puts into play the very problematics of subjectivity and expression at work in the object of his critical attention. Mark Dery has described "buzz saw strumming" as the objective correlative of cyberpunk music (Dery, 1996, 95). Understanding Beckettcan be read as an objective correlative of the adjacency, connection and juxtaposition that I have been outlining in relation to Zorn, Stalling and Captain Beefheart, in the context of an aesthetics of dislocation.

figure 6: Nicholas Zurbrugg

Track Six: The Zurbrugg Effect

[21] Now you may well by now be asking yourselves what the hell any of this stuff has to do with new media. One response to such a question is to assemble a list of proper names used throughout this tape in the manner of Stanley Fish and set you all an exercise in new media response theory: how to recognize a hypertext when you see one. Another is to note that it is very difficult to totalize new media as a coherent or singular thing. The term new media can apply to things as diverse as the use of email, digital imaging, multimedia games, hypertext fiction, non-linear editing, digital cinematography and text messaging. It would be folly to attempt to contrive a poetics that somehow accounted for these diverse applications that all fall under the banner of new media.

[22] What I have rather tried to do here is to identify a poetics that can account for the connective aspect of new media, from remote communications and the creation of virtual communities, to the radical paratactics of hypertext fiction. In other words, phenomena of dislocation associated with new media that are co-evolutionary with forms of cultural production in pre-digital media. Nor have I simply identified precursory examples of disjunctive poetics that can be pointed to as precedents, or forecasts of digital media (though Joyce came pretty close in Finnegans Wake to being a soothsayer of the digital age with the line "Speak to us of emailia"). What I have tried to do is something very much in the spirit of what I call the Zurbrugg effect.

[23] In The Parameters of Postmodernism, Zurbrugg convincingly argues that the emergence of hypermedia art practices, which he defines as the postmodern avant-garde, are "quintessentially technological innovations" that contribute to a continuation of the "European modernist avant-garde's explorations of kinetic and electronic art" (Zurbrugg, 1994, 133). This remark, in itself, is an adequate counterpoint to the speculations I have been positing. However Zurbrugg's elegant and rigorous genealogies of avant-continuity offers a persuasive insight into the deeper poetics at work in this continuum: a poetics of subtle, deep structure that may not at first appear apparent in the performative manifestations of varied art works in different media in different historical moments; manifestations as diverse as the French new novel, the performance art of Laurie Anderson, the concrete poetry of Henri Chopin, or the digital realms of Troy Innocent. The historical dimension of this poetics is detailed in one of his finest essays, "Beyond Beckett: Reckless Writing and the Concept of the Avant-Garde Within Post-Modern Literature", a version of which was first published in Art and Text in 1981 (I note the date to evidence that Zurbrugg was writing of traditional and intermedia arts that pre-dated the art forms that for our purposes are referred to as new media). In this essay Zurbrugg draws on Walter Benjamin's discussion of avant-garde art and technological change and Andreas Huyssen's account of the contemporary avant-garde as the re-articulation of an earlier avant-scene. From this discussion Zurbrugg outlines a theoretical model that accounts for the ongoing potential of new modes of creativity to emerge out of the apparent impasse of avant-garde experimentation. In other words, Zurbrugg constructs a trans-historical rather than epochal model of the avant-garde. In response to Benjamin's alignment of new forms of creativity with "a changed technical standard", Zurbrugg suggests that

The key word in Benjamin's phrase is of course changed, since the singular characteristic of contemporary technological avant-garde creativity is not so much that it employs the familiar potential of the popular mass culture to which Huyssen refers, but that it relentlessly explores the unfamiliar potential of contemporary media by juxtaposing them or by modulating them in experiments which frequently anticipate effects which, in Benjamin's terms, may only be fully achieved in the future with the advent of a changed technical standard (Zurbrugg, 1981, 41).

Zurbrugg's argument is that unfamiliarity, or novelty, is generated through the juxtaposition of existing cultural technologies. This idea converges neatly with more recent theories of new media that draw on their recombinant nature, their remediation of available media into new, hybrid forms (although I don't agree entirely with the implication that particular forms of experimentation could only be achieved with the advent of the right technology: that's an argument for another time). While these forms may present us with creative modes that seem revolutionary, in the context of Zurbrugg's argument they are actually co-evolutionary, continuing a poetics of radical displacement and experimentation that has driven the avant-garde sensibility. To exemplify this, we may well find Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl or Mark Amerika's Grammatron inventive and avant-garde. But we should not forget that the digital nature of hypertext, as a new technology, is not the same as hypertextuality, which can be defined, as Espen Aarseth has done, as a form of textual behaviour that is not exclusive to electronic hypertext. [7] As we elevate such works to canonical status in the pantheon of new media, we should spare a thought for all the examples of hypertextuality that are still largely unread and apparently unknown to those critics for whom hypertextuality begins with hypertext. This, then, is the Zurbrugg effect, the recognition that what we call new media art is part of a continuum, a co-evolutionary avant-garde that encompasses all modes of cultural production, including non-electronic, partly-technological works: works that have and continue to bug most people.

© Darren Tofts, February 2003.This essay was originally presented at the (Dis) Locations symposium on new media art, Cinemedia at Treasury Theatre, Melbourne, 1st December, 2001. It was originally published in Senses of Cinema, 18, January-February, 2002: «».



[1] The title of this paper comes from Captain Beefheart's "Sam With the Showing Scalp Flat Top", from the Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart album, Bongo Fury (1975).

[2] The phrase is H. Porter Abbott's, from an article on Samuel Beckett, "A Grammar For Being Elsewhere",Journal of Modern Literature, 6, 1, 1977.

[3] This line is attributed to Frank Zappa between tracks on Trout Mask Replica.

[4] See Samuel Beckett, "Dante... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce", in Samuel Beckett, Our Exagmination Round His Factification For Incamination of Work In Progress, London, Faber, 1972.

[5] See Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.

[6] See «».

[7] See Espen Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, p.5.



Bangs, L. (1969) Review of Trout Mask Replica, Rolling Stone, 26th July.

Beefheart, Captain (Don Van Vliet) (1969) Trout Mask Replica, Straight Records, STS1053.

Beckett, S. (1976) Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit, London, John Calder.

Deleuze, G & F. Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity: Cyberculture At The End of the Century, New York, Grove Press.

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Gablik, S. (1995) Conversations Before the End of Time: Dialogues on Art, Life Spiritual Renewal, New York, Thames & Hudson.

Gidal, P. (1974) "Beckett & Others & Art: A System", Studio International, November.

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McCabe, N. (1995) Liner Notes, The Carl Stalling Project, Volume 2, Warner Bros. Records, 945430-2.

McNeilly, K. (1995) "Ugly Beauty: John Zorn and the Politics of Postmodern Music", Postmodern Culture, 5, 2, «». Accessed 20/11/01.

McQuire, S. "Space for Rent in the Last Suburb", in Tofts,, 2002.

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Robbe-Grillet, A. (1965) For A New Novel. Essays on Fiction, New York, Grove Press.

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Tofts, D & M. McKeich (1998) Memory Trade: A Prehistory of Cyberculture, Sydney, Interface Books.

Tofts, D. (1999) Parallax. Essays on Art, Culture and Technology, Sydney, Interface Books.

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Wark, M. (1994) Virtual Geography. Living With Global Media Events, Indiana University Press.

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---. (1988) Spillane, New York, Elektra/Nonesuch, 9 79172-1.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Theatrum Philosophicum

T H E A T R U M  P H I L 0 S O P H I C U M*

Michel Foucault

I must discuss two books of exceptional merit and importance: Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense.1 Indeed, these books are so outstanding that they are difficult to discuss; this may explain, as well, why so few have undertaken this task. I believe that these words will continue to revolve about us in enigmatic resonance with those of Klossowski, another major and excessive sign, and perhaps one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian."


One after another, I should like to explore the many paths that lead to the heart of these challenging tests. As Deleuze has said to me, however, this metaphor is misleading: there is no heart, but only a problem-that is, a distribution of notable points; there is no center but always decenterings, series, from one to another, with the limp of a presence and an absence-of an excess, of a deficiency. Abandon the circle, a faulty principle of return; abandon our tendency to organize everything into a sphere. All things return on the straight and narrow, by way of a straight and labyrinthine line. Thus, fibrils and bifurca tion (Leiris's marvelous series would be well suited to a Deleuzian analysis).


Overturn Platonism: what philosophy has not tried? If we defined phi losophy at the limit as any attempt, regardless of its source, to reverse Platonism, then philosophy begins with Aristotle; or better yet, it begins with Plato himself, with the conclusion of the Sophist where it is impossible to distinguish Socrates from the crafty imitator; or it be gins with the Sophists who were extremely vocal about the rise of Platonism and who ridiculed its future greatness with their perpetual play on words.


Are all philosophies individual species of the genus "anti-Platonic"? Would each begin with a declaration of this fundamental rejection? Can they be grouned around this desired and detestable center? Should we instead say that the philosophical nature of a dis course is its Platonic differential, an element absent in Platonism but present in the discourse itself? A better formulation would be: It is an element in which the effect of absence is induced in the Platonic se ries through a new and divergent series (consequently, its function in the Platonic series is that of a signifier both excessive and absent); and it is also an element in which the Platonic series produces a free, floating, and excessive circulation in that other discourse. Plato, then, is the excessive and deficient father. It is useless to define a philosophy by its anti-Platonic character (as a plant is distinguished by its reproductive organs); but a philosophy can be distinguished some what in the manner in which a phantasm is defined, by the effect of a lack when it is distributed into its two constituent series-the "ar chaic" and the "real"-and you will dream of a general history of phi­losophy, a Platonic phantasmatology, and not an architecture of systems.


In any event, here is Deleuze. His "reversed Platonism" consists of displacing himself within the Platonic series in order to disclose an unexpected facet: division.2 Plato did not establish a weak separation between the genus "hunter," "cook," or "politician," as the Aristote lians said; neither was he concerned with the particular characteris tics of the species "fisherman" or "one who hunts with snares",5 he wished to discover the identity of the true hunter. Who is? and not What is? He searched for the authentic, the pure gold. Instead of sub dividing, selecting, and pursuing a productive seam, he chose among the pretenders and ignored their fixed cadastral properties, he tested them with the strung bow, which eliminates all but one (the nameless one, the nomad). But how does one distinguish the false (the simula tors, the "so-called") from the authentic (the unadulterated and -pure)? Certainly not by discovering a law of the true and false (truth is not opposed to error but to false appearances), but by looking above these manifestations to a model, a model so pure that the actual purity of the "pure" resembles it, approximates it, and measures itself against it; a model that exists so forcefully that in its presence they sham vanity of the false copy is immediately reduced to nonexistence. With the abrupt appearance of Ulysses, the eternal husband, the false suitors disappear. Exeunt simulacra. Plato is said to have opposed essence to appearance, a higher world to this world below, the sun of truth to the shadows of the cave (and it becomes our duty to bring essences back into the world, to glorify the world, and to place the sun of truth within man). But Deleuze locates Plato's singularity in the delicate sorting, in this fine operation that precedes the discovery of essence precisely because it calls upon it, and tries to separate malign simulacra from the masses [peuple] of appearance. Thus it is useless to attempt the reversal of Platonism by reinstating the rights of appearances, ascribing to them solidity and meaning, and bringing them closer to essential forms by lending them a conceptual backbone: these timid creatures should not be encouraged to stand upright. Neither should we attempt to rediscover the supreme and solemn gesture that established, in a single stroke, the inaccessible Idea. Rather, we should welcome the cunning assembly that simulates and clamors at the door. And what will enter, sub merging appearance and breaking its engagement to essence, will be the event; the incorporeal will dissipate the density of matter; a timeless insistence will destroy the circle that imitates eternity; an impenetrable singularity will divest itself of its contamination by purity; the actual semblance of the simulacrum will support the falseness of false appearances. The sophist springs up and challenges Socrates to prove that he is not the illegitimate usurper.                           


To reverse Platonism with Deleuze is to displace oneself insidiously within it, to descend a notch, to descend to its smallest gestures-discreet, but moral - which serve to exclude the simulacrum; it is also to deviate slightly from it, to open the door from either side to the small talk it excluded; it is to initiate another disconnected and divergent series; it is to construct, by way of this small lateral leap, a dethroned para-Platonism. To convert Platonism (a se rious task) is to increase its compassion for reality, for the world, and for time. To subvert Platonism is to begin at the top (the vertical dis tance of irony) and to grasp its origin. To pervert Platonism is to search out the smallest details, to descend (with the natural gravita tion of humor) as far as its crop of hair or the dirt under its fingernails-those things that were never hallowed by an idea; it is to discover the decentering it put into effect in order to recenter itself around the Model, the Identical, and the Same; it is the decentering of oneself with respect to Platonism so as to give rise to the play (as with every perversion) of surfaces at its border. Irony rises and subverts; humor falls and perverts.4 To pervert Plato is to side with the Sophists' spitefulness, the unmannerly gestures of the Cynics, the arguments of the Stoics, and the fluttering chimeras of Epicurus. It is time to read Diogenes Laertius.


We should be alert to the surface effects in which the Epicurians take such pleasure:5 emissions proceeding from deep within bodies and rising like the wisps of a fog-interior phantoms that are quickly reabsorbed into other depths by the sense of smell, by the mouth, by the appetites, extremely thin membranes that detach themselves from the surfaces of objects and proceed to impose colors and contours deep within our eyes (floating epiderm, visual idols); phantasms of fear or desire (cloud gods, the adorable face of the beloved, "miserable hope transported by the wind"). It is all this swarming of the impalpable that must be integrated into our thought: we must articulate a phi losophy of the phantasm construed not through the intermediary of perception of the image, as being of the order of an originary given but, rather, left to come to light among the surfaces to which it is related, in the reversal that causes every interior to pass to the outside and every exterior to the inside, in the temporal oscillation that al ways makes it precede and follow itself-in short, in what Deleuze would perhaps not allow us to call its "incorporeal materiality."


It is useless, in any case, to seek a more substantial truth behind the phantasm, a truth to which it points as a rather confused sign (thus, the futility of "symptomatologizing"); it is also useless to contain it within stable figures and to construct solid cores of convergence where we might include, on the basis of their identical properties, all its angles, flashes, membranes, and vapors (no possibility of "phenomenalization"). Phantasms must be allowed to function at the limit of bodies; against bodies, because they stick to bodies and protrude from them, but also because they touch them, cut them, break them into sections, regionalize them, and multiply their surfaces; and equally, outside of bodies, because they function between bodies ac cording to laws of proximity, torsion, and variable distance-laws of which they remain ignorant. Phantasms do not extend organisms into the imaginary; they topologize the materiality of the body. They should consequently be freed from the restrictions we impose upon them, freed from the dilemmas of truth and falsehood and of being and nonbeing (the essential difference between simulacrum and copy carried to its logical conclusion); they must be allowed to conduct their dance, to act out their mime, as "extrabeings."


The Logic of Sense can be read as the most alien book imaginable from The Phenomenology of Perception.6 In this latter text, the body-organism is linked to the world through a network of primal significa tions which arise from the perception of things, while, according to Deleuze, phantasms form the impenetrable and incorporeal surface of bodies; and from this process, simultaneously topological and cruel, something is shaped that falsely presents itself as a centered organism and distributes at its periphery the increasing remoteness of things. More essentially, however, The Logic of Sense should be read as the boldest and most insolent of metaphysical treatises-on the simple condition that instead of denouncing metaphysics as the ne glect of being, we force it to speak of extrabeing. Physics: discourse dealing with the ideal structure of bodies, mixtures, reactions, inter nal and external mechanisms, metaphysics: discourse dealing with the materiality of incorporeal things-phantasms, idols, and simu lacra.


Illusion is certainly the misfortune of metaphysics, but not because metaphysics, by its very nature, is doomed to illusion, but because for too long it has been haunted by illusion and because, in its fear of the simulacrum, it was forced to hunt down the illusory. Metaphysics is not illusory-it is not merely another species of this particular genus-but illusion is a metaphysics. It is the product of a particular meta physics that designated the separation between the simulacrum on one side and the original and the perfect copy on the other. There was a critique whose task was to unearth metaphysical illusion and to establish its necessity; Deleuze's metaphysics, however, initiates the necessary critique for the disillusioning of phantasms. With this grounding, the way is cleared for the advance of the Epicurean and materialist series, for the pursuit of their singular zigzag. And it does not lead, in spite of itself, to a shameful metaphysics; it leads joyously to metaphysics-a metaphysics freed from its original profundity as well as from a supreme being, but also one that can conceive of the phantasm in its play of surfaces without the aid of models, a meta physics where it is no longer a question of the One Good but of the absence of God and the epidermic play of perversity. A dead God and sodomy are the thresholds of the new metaphysical ellipse. Where natural theology contained metaphysical illusion in itself and where this illusion was always more or less related to natural theology, the metaphysics of the phantasm revolves around atheism and transgres sion. Sade and Bataille and somewhat later, the/palm upturned in a gesture of defense and invitation, Roberte.7


Moreover, this series of liberated simulacrum is activated, or mimes itself, on two privileged sites: that of psychoanalysis, which should eventually be understood as a metaphysical practice since it concerns itself with phantasms; and that of the theater, which is mul tiplied, polyscenic, simultaneous, broken into separate scenes that re fer to each other, and where we encounter, without any trace of representation (copying or imitating), the dance of masks, the cries of bodies, and the gesturing of hands and fingers. And throughout each of these two recent and divergent series (the attempt to "reconcile" these series, to reduce them to either perspective, to produce a ridicu lous "psychodrama," has been extremely naive), Freud and Artaud exclude each other and give rise to a mutual resonance. The philoso phy of representation-of the original, the first time, resemblance, imitation, faithfulness-is dissolving; and the arrow of the simu lacrum released by the Epicureans is headed in our direction. It gives birth-rebirth-to a "phantasmaphysics."


Occupying the other side of Platonism are the Stoics. Observing Deleuze in his discussion of Epicurus and Zeno, of Lucretius and Chrysippus, I was forced to conclude that his procedure was rigor ously Freudian. He does not proceed-with a drum roll-toward the great Repression of Western philosophy; he registers, as if in passing, its oversights. He points out its interruption, its gaps, those small things of little value neglected by philosophical discourse. He care fully reintroduces the barely perceptible omissions, knowing full well that they imply an unlimited negligence. Through the insistence of our pedagogical tradition, we are accustomed to reject the Epicurean simulacra as useless and somewhat puerile; and the famous battle of Stoicism, which took place yesterday and will reoccur tomorrow, has become cause for amusement in the schools. Deleuze did well to com bine these tenuous threads and to play, in his own fashion, with this network of discourses, arguments, replies, and paradoxes, those ele ments that circulated for many centuries throughout the Mediterra nean. We should not scorn Hellenistic confusion or Roman platitudes but listen to those things said on the great surface of the empire; we should be attentive to those things that happened in a thousand in stances, dispersed on every side: fulgurating battles, assassinated gen erals, burning triremes, queens poisoning themselves, victories that invariably led to further upheavals, the endlessly exemplary Actium, the eternal event.


To consider a pure event, it must first be given a metaphysical ba sis.8 But we must be agreed that it cannot be the metaphysics of sub stances, which can serve as a foundation for accidents; nor can it be a metaphysics of coherence, which situates these accidents in the en tangled nexus of causes and effects. The event-a wound, a victory-defeat, death-is always an effect produced entirely by bodies colliding, mingling, or separating, but this effect is never of a corpo real nature; it is the intangible, inaccessible battle that turns and re peats itself a thousand times around Fabricius, above the wounded Prince Andrew.9 The weapons that tear into bodies form an endless incorporeal battle. Physics concerns causes, but events, which arise as its effects, no longer belong to it Let us imagine a stitched causal ity: as bodies collide, mingle, and suffer, they create events on their surfaces, events that are without thickness, mixture, or passion; for this reason, they can no longer be causes. They form, among them selves, another kind of succession whose links derive from a quasi-physics of incorporeals-in short, from metaphysics.


Events also require a more complex logic.10 An event is not a state of things, something that could serve as a referent for a proposition (the fact of death is a state of things in relation to which an assertion can be true or false; dying is a pure event that can never verify any thing). For a ternary logic, traditionally centered on the referent, we must substitute an interrelationship based on four terms. "Marc Ant ony is dead" designatesa state of things; expresses my opinion or be lief; signifies an affirmation; and, in addition, has a meaning: "dying." An intangible meaning with one side turned toward things because "dying" is something that occurs, as an event, to Antony, and the other toward the proposition because "dying" is what is said about Antony in a statement. To die: a dimension of the proposition; an incorporeal effect produced by a sword; a meaning and an event; a point without thickness or substance of which someone speaks, which roams the surface of things. We should not restrict meaning to the cognitive core that lies at the heart of a knowable object; rather, we should allow it to reestablish its flux at the limit of words and things, as what is said of a thing (not its attribute or the thing in itself) and as something that happens (not its process or its state). Death supplies the best example, being both the event of events and meaning in its purest state. Its domain is the anonymous flow of discourse; it is that of which we speak as always past or about to happen, and yet it occurs at the extreme point of singularity. A meaning-event is as neutral as death: "not the end, but the unending; not a particular death, but any death; not true death, but as Kafka said, the snicker of its devastating error."11


Finally, this meaning-event requires a grammar with a different form of organization,12 since it cannot be situated in a proposition as an attribute (to be dead, to be alive, to be red) but is fastened to the verb (to die, to live, to redden). The verb, conceived in this fashion, has two principal forms around which the others are distributed,, the present tense, which posits an event, and the infinitive, which intro duces meaning into language and allows it to circulate as the neutral element to which we refer in discourse. We should not seek the gram mar of events in temporal inflections; nor should we seek the gram mar of meaning in fictitious analysis of the type: to live = to be alive. The grammar of the meaning-event revolves around two asymmetri cal and hobbling poles: the infinitive mode and the present tense. The meaning-event is always both the displacement of the present and the eternal repetition of the infinitive. To die is never localized in the density of a given moment, but from its flux it infinitely divides the shortest moment. To die is even smaller than the moment it takes to think it, and yet dying is indefinitely repeated on either side of this widthless crack. The eternal present? Only on the condition that we conceive the present as lacking plenitude and the eternal as lacking unity: the (multiple) eternity of the (displaced) present.


To summarize: At the limit of dense bodies, an event is incorporeal (a metaphysical surface); on the surface of words and things, an in corporeal event is the meaning of a proposition (its logical dimen sion); in the thread of discourse, an incorporeal meaning-event is fastened to the verb (the infinitive point of the present).


In the more or less recent past, there have been, I think, three major attempts at conceptualizing the event: neopositivism, phenom enology, and the philosophy of history. Neopositivism failed to grasp the distinctive level of the event; because of its logical error, the con fusion of an event with a state of things, it had no choice but to lodge the event within the density of bodies, to treat it as a material process, and to attach itself more or less explicitly to a physicalism ("in a schizoid fashion," it reduced surfaces into depth); as for grammar, it transformed the event into an attribute. Phenomenology, on the other hand, reoriented the event with respect to meaning: either it placed the bare event before or to the side of meaning-the rock of facticity, the mute inertia of occurrences-and then submitted it to the active processes of meaning, to its digging and elaboration; or else it as sumed a domain of primal significations which always existed as a disposition of the world around the self, tracing its paths and privi leged locations, indicating in advance where the event might occur and its possible form. Either the cat whose good sense precedes the smile or the common sense of the smile that anticipates the cat. Either Sartre or Merleau-Ponty. For them, meaning never coincides with an event; and from this evolves a logic of signification, a grammar of the first person, and a metaphysics of consciousness. As for the philoso phy of history, it encloses the event in a cyclical pattern of time. Its error is grammatical; it treats the present as framed by the past and future: the present is a former future where its form was prepared; it is the past to come, which preserves the identity of its content. On the one hand, this sense of the present requires a logic of essences (which establishes the present in memory) and of concepts (where the present is established as a knowledge of the future), and on the other, a metaphysics of a crowned and coherent cosmos, of a hierarchical world.


Thus, three philosophies that fail to grasp the event. The first, on the pretext that nothing can be said about those things which lie "out side" the world, rejects the pure surface of the event and attempts to enclose it forcibly - as a referent - in the spherical plenitude of the world. The second, on the pretext that signification only exists for consciousness, places the event outside and beforehand, or inside and after, and always situates it with respect to the circle of the self. The third, on the pretext that events can only exist in time, defines its identity and submits it to a solidly centered order. The world, the self, and God (a sphere, a circle, and a center): three conditions that make it impossible to think through the event. Deleuze's proposals, I be lieve, are directed to lifting this triple subjection that, to this day, is imposed on the event: a metaphysics of the incorporeal event (which is consequently irreducible to a physics of the world), a logic of neu tral meaning (rather than a phenomenology of signification based on the subject), and a thought of the present infinitive (and not the rais ing up of the conceptual future in a past essence).


We have arrived at the point where the two series of the event and the phantasm are brought into resonance -the resonance of the incorpo real and the intangible, the resonance of battles, of death that subsists and insists, of the fluttering and desirable idol: it subsists not in the heart of man but above his head, beyond the clash of weapons, of fate and desire. It is not that they converge in a common point, in some phantasmatic event, or in the primary origin of a simulacrum. The event is that which is invariably lacking in the series of the phantasm-its absence indicates its repetition devoid of any grounding in an original, outside of all forms of imitation, and freed from the constraints of similitude. Consequently, it is disguise of repetition, the always-singular mask that conceals nothing, simulacra without dis simulation, incongruous finery covering a nonexistent nudity, pure difference.


As for the phantasm, it is "excessive" with respect to the singularity of the event, but this "excess" does not designate an imaginary supplement adding itself to the bare reality of facts; nor does it form a sort of embryonic generality from which the organization of the con cept gradually emerges. To conceive of death or a battle as a phan tasm is not to confuse them either with the old image of death suspended over a senseless accident or with the future concept of a battle secretly organizing the present disordered tumult; the battle rages from one blow to the next, and the process of death indefinitely repeats the blow, always in its possession, which it inflicts once and for all. This conception of the phantasm as the play of the (missing) event and its repetition must not be given the form of individuality (a form inferior to the concept and therefore, informal), nor must it be measured against reality (a reality that imitates an image); it presents itself as universal singularity: to die, to fight, to vanquish, to be van quished.


The Logic of Sense tells us how to think through the event and the phantasm, their severed and double affirmation, their affirmation of disjunction. Determining an event on the basis of a concept, by deny ing any importance to repetition, is perhaps what might be called knowing[connaitre]; and measuring the phantasm against reality, by going in search of its origin, is judging. Philosophy tried to do both; it dreamed of itself as a science, and presented itself as a critique. Thinking, on the other hand, would amount to effectuating the phan tasm in the mime that produces it at a single stroke; it would make the event indefinite so that it repeats itself as a singular universal. Think ing in the absolute would thus amount to thinking through the event and the phantasm. A further clarification: If the role of thought is to produce the phantasm theatrically and to repeat the universal event in its extreme point of singularity, then what is thought itself if not the event that befalls the phantasm and the phantasmatic repetition of the absent event? The phantasm and the event, affirmed in disjunction, are the object of thought [le pense’], and thought itself [la pensée]; on the surface of bodies they place the extra being that only thought can think through; and they trace the topological event where thought itself is formed. Thought has to think through what forms it, and is formed out of what it thinks through. The critique-knowledge duality is perfectly useless: thought says what it is.


This formulation, however, is a bit dangerous. It connotes equiva lence and allows us once more to imagine the identification of an object and a subject. This would be entirely false. That the object of thought [Ie pense'] forms thought [la pensée] implies, on the contrary, a double dissociation: that of a central and founding subject to which events occur while it deploys meaning around itself; and of an object that is a threshold and point of convergence for recognizable forms and the attributes we affirm. We must conceive of an indefinite, straight line that (far from bearing events as a string supports its knots) cuts and recuts each moment so many times that each event arises both incorporeal and indefinitely multiple. We must conceptu alize not the synthesizing and synthesized subject but rather a certain insurmountable fissure. Moreover, we must conceptualize a series, without any original anchor, of simulacra, idols, and phantasms which, in the temporal duality in which they are formed are always the two sides of the fissure from which they are made signs and are put into place as signs. The fissure of the I and the series of signifying points do not form a unity that permits thought to be both subject and object, but they are themselves the event of thought [lapensée] and the incorporeality of what is thought [Ie pense'], the object of thought [Ie pense'] as a problem (a multiplicity of dispersed points) and thought [la pensée]  as mime (repetition without a model).


This is why The Logic of Sense could have as a subtitle: What Is Thinking? A question that Deleuze always inscribes twice through the length of his book-in the text of a stoic logic of the incorporeal, and in the text of a Freudian analysis of the phantasm. What is thinking? Listen to the stoics, who tell us how it might be possible to have thought about what is thought. Read Freud, who tells us how thought might think. Perhaps we arrive here for the first time at a theory of thought that is entirely disburdened of the subject and the object The thought-event is as singular as a throw of the dice; the thought-phantasm does not search for truth, but repeats thought


In any case, we understand Deleuze's repeated emphasis on the mouth in The Logic of Sense. It is through this mouth, as Zeno recognized, that cartloads of food pass as well as carts of meaning ("If you say cart, a cart passes through your mouth"). The mouth, the orifice, the canal where the child intones the simulacra, the dismembered parts, and bodies without organs; the mouth in which depths and surfaces are articulated. Also the mouth from which falls the voice of the other giving rise to lofty idols that flutter above the child and from the superego. The mouth where cries are broken into phonemes, morphemes, semantemes: the mouth where the profundity of an oral body separates itself from incorporeal meaning. Through this open mouth, through this alimentary voice, the genesis of language, the formation of meaning, and the flash of thought extend their divergent series.13 I would enjoy discussing Deleuze's rigorous phonocentrism were it not for the fact of a constant phonodecentering. Let Deleuze receive homage from the fantastic grammarian, from the dark precur sor who nicely situated the remarkable facets of this decentering:

Les dents, la bouche

Les dents la bouchent

L'aidant la bouche

Laides en la bouche

Lait dans la bouche, etc.

The Logic of Sense causes us to reflect on matters that philosophy has neglected for many centuries: the event (assimilated in a concept, from which we vainly attempted to extract in the form of a fact, veri fying a proposition, of actual experience, a modality of the subject, ofconcreteness, the empirical content of history); and the phantasm (re duced in the name of reality and situated at the extremity, the patho logical pole, of a normative sequence: perception-image-memory-illusion). After all, what most urgently needs thought in this century, if not the event and the phantasm?


We should thank Deleuze for his efforts. He did not revive the tire some slogans: Freud with Marx, Marx with Freud, and both, if you please, with us. He analyzed clearly the essential elements for estab lishing the thought of the event and the phantasm. His aim was not reconciliation (to expand the farthest reaches of an event with the imaginary density of a phantasm, or to ballast a floating phantasm by adding a grain of actual history); he discovered the philosophy that permits the disjunctive affirmation of both. Even before The Logic of Sense, Deleuze formulated this philosophy with completely un guarded boldness in Difference and Repetition, and we must now turn to this earlier work.

Instead of denouncing the fundamental omission that is presumed to have inaugurated Western culture, Deleuze, with the patience of a Nietzschean genealogist, points to the variety of small impurities and paltry compromises.14 He tracks down the minuscule, repetitive act of cowardice and all those features of folly, vanity, and complacency which endlessly nourish the philosophical mushroom-what Michel Leiris might call "ridiculous rootlets." We all possess good sense, we all make mistakes, but no one is dumb (certainly, none of us). There is no thought without goodwill; every real problem has a solution, be cause our apprenticeship is to a master who has answers for the ques tions he poses; the world is our classroom. A whole series of insignificant beliefs. But in reality, we encounter the tyranny of good will, the obligation to think "in common" with others, the domination of a pedagogical model, and most important, the exclusion of stupidity - the disreputable morality of thought whose function in our society is easy to decipher. We must liberate ourselves from these constraints; and in perverting this morality, philosophy itself is disori ented.


Take difference. It is generally assumed to be a difference from or within something; behind difference, beyond it-but as its support, its site, its delimitation, and consequently, as the source of its mastery -we pose, through the concept, the unity of a group and its breakdown into species in the operation of difference (the organic domination of the Aristotelian concept). Differrence is transformed into that which must be specified within a concept, without overstepping its bounds. And yet, above the species, we encounter the swarming of individu alities. What is this boundless diversity which eludes specification and remains outside the concept, if not the resurgence of repetition? Underneath the ovine species, we are reduced to counting sheep. This stands as the first form of subjectivation: difference as specification (within the concept) and repetition as the indifference of individuals (outside the concept). But subjectivation to what? To common sense which, turning away from mad flux and anarchic difference, knows how, everywhere and always in the same manner, to recognize what is identical; common sense extracts the generality of an object while it simultaneously establishes the universality of the knowing subject through a pact of goodwill. But what if we gave free rein to ill will? What if thought freed itself from common sense and decided to func tion only in its extreme singularity? What if it made malign use of the skew of the paradox, instead of complacently accepting its citizenship in the doxa? What if it conceived of difference differentially, instead of searching out the common elements underlying difference? Then dif ference would disappear as a general feature that leads to the general ity of the concept, and it would become-a different thought, the thought of difference-a pure event. As for repetition, it would cease to be the dreary succession of the identical, and would become dis placed difference. Thought is no longer committed to the construction of concepts once it escapes goodwill and the administration of com mon sense, concerned as it is with division and characterization. Rather, it produces a meaning-event by repeating a phantasm. The morally good will to think within common sense thought had the fundamental role of protecting thought from its genital singularity.


But let us reconsider the functioning of the concept. For the concept to master difference, perception must apprehend global resemblances (which will then be decomposed into differences and partial identi ties) at the root of what we call "diversity." Each new representation must be accomplished by those representations which display the full range of resemblances; and in this space of representation (sensation-image-memory), likenesses are put to the test of quanti tative equalization and graduated quantities, and in this way the im mense table of measurable differences is constructed. In the corner of this graph, on its horizontal axis where the smallest quantitative gap meets the smallest qualitative variation, at this zero point, we encoun ter perfect resemblance, exact repetition. Repetition which, within the concept, was only the impertinent vibration of identities, becomes, within a system of representation, the organizing principle for simi larities. But what recognizes these similarities, the exactly alike and the least similar-the greatest and the smallest, the brightest and the darkest - if not good sense? Good sense is the world's most effective agent of division in its recognitions, its establishment of equivalences, its sensitivity to gaps, its gauging of distances, as it assimilates and separates. And it is good sense that reigns in the philosophy of repre sentations. Let us pervert good sense and allow thought to play out side the ordered table of resemblances; then it will appear as the vertical dimension of intensities, because intensity, well before its gradation by representation, is in itself pure difference: difference that displaces and repeats itself, contracts and expands; a singular point that constricts and slackens the indefinite repetitions in an acute event One must give rise to thought as intensive irregularity. Dissolu tion of the Me.


A last consideration with respect to the table of representation. The meeting point of the axes is the point of perfect resemblance, and from this arises the scale of differences as so many lesser resemblances, marked identities: differences arise when representation can only partially present what was previously present, when the test of recog nition is stymied. For a thing to be different, it must first no longer be the same; and it is on this negative basis, above the shadowy part that delimits the same, that contrary predicates are then articulated. In the philosophy of representation, the relationship of two predicates, like red and green, is merely the highest level of a complex structure: the contradictionbetween red and not-red (based on the model of being and non-being) is active on the lowest level; the non identity of red and green (on the basis of a negative test of recognition) is situated above this; and this ultimately leads to the exclusive position of red and green (in the table where thegenus color is specified). Thus for a third time, but in an even more radical manner, difference is held fast within an oppositional, negative, and contradictory system. For differ ence to have a place, it was necessary to divide the "same" through contradiction, to limit its infinite identity through non being, to trans form its indeterminate positivity through the negative. Given the pri ority of the same, difference could only arise through these mediations. As for the repetitive, it is produced precisely at the point where the barely launched mediation falls back on itself; when, in stead of saying no, it twice pronounces the same yes, and when, in stead of distributing oppositions into a system of definitions, it turns back indefinitely to the same position. Repetition betrays the weak ness of the same at the moment when it can no longer negate itself in the other, when it can no longer recapture itself in the other. Repeti tion, at one time pure exteriority and a pure figure of the origin, has been transformed into an internal weakness, a deficiency of finitude, a sort of stuttering of the negative-the neurosis of dialectics. For it was indeed toward dialectics that the philosophy of representation was headed.


And yet, how is it that we fail to recognize Hegel as the philosopher of the greater differences and Leibniz as the thinker of the smallest differences? In actuality, dialectics does not liberate differences; it guarantees, on the contrary, that they can always be recaptured. The dialectical sovereignty of the same consists in permitting differences to exist but always under the rule of the negative, as an instance of nonbeing. They may appear to be the successful subversion of the Other, but contradiction secretly assists in the salvation of identities. Is it necessary to recall the unchanging pedagogical origin of dialec tics? What ceaselessly reactivates it, what causes the endless rebirth of the aporia of being and nonbeing, is the humble classroom interro gation, the student's fictive dialogue: "This is red; that is not red. At this moment, it is light outside. No, now it is dark." In the twilight of an October sky, Minerva's bird flies close to the ground: "Write it down, write it down," it croaks, "tomorrow morning, it will no longer be dark."


The freeing of difference requires thought without contradiction, without dialectics, without negation; thought that accepts divergence; affirmative thought whose instrument is disjunction; thought of the multiple-of the nomadic and dispersed multiplicity that is not limited or confined by the constraints of the same; thought that does not con form to a pedagogical model (the fakery of prepared answers) but attacks insoluble problems - that is, a thought which addresses a mul tiplicity of exceptional points, which is displaced as we distinguish their conditions and which insists upon and subsists in the play of repetitions. Far from being the still incomplete and blurred image of an Idea that would, from on high and for all time, hold the answer, the problem lies in the idea itself, or rather, the Idea exists only in the form of a problem: a distinctive plurality whose obscurity is neverthe less insistent, and in which the question ceaselessly stirs. What is the answer to the question? The problem. How is the problem resolved? By displacing the question. The problem escapes the logic of the ex cluded third, because it is a dispersed multiplicity; it cannot be re solved by the clear distinctions of a Cartesian idea, because as an idea it is obscure-distinct; it seriously disobeys the Hegelian negative be cause it is a multiple affirmation; it is not subjected to the contradic tion of being and non being, since it is being. We must think problematically rather than question and answer dialectically.


The conditions for thinking of difference and repetition, as we have seen, have undergone a progressive expansion. First, it was neces sary, along with Aristotle, to abandon the identity of the concept, to reject resemblance within representation, and simultaneously to free ourselves from the philosophy of representation; and now, it is neces sary to free ourselves from Hegel-from the opposition of predicates, from contradiction and negation, from all of dialectics. But there is yet a fourth condition, and it is even more formidable than the others. The most tenacious subjectivation of difference is undoubtedly that maintained by categories. By showing the number of different ways in which being can express itself, by specifying its forms of attribution, by imposing in a certain way the distribution of existing things, cat egories create a condition where being maintains its undifferentiated repose at the highest level. Categories dictate the play of affirmations and negations, establish the legitimacy of resemblances within repre sentation, and guarantee the objectivity and operation of concepts. They suppress anarchic difference, divide differences into zones, de limit their rights, and prescribe their task of specification with respect to individual beings. On one side, they can be understood as the a priori forms of knowledge, but, on the other, they appear as an ar chaic morality, the ancient decalogue that the identical imposed upon difference. Difference can only be liberated through the invention of an acategorical thought. But perhaps invention is a misleading word, since in the history of philosophy there have been at least two radical formulations of the univocity of being - those given by Duns Scotus and Spinoza. In Duns Scotus's philosophy, However, being is neutral, while for Spinoza it is based on substance; in both contexts, the elimi nation of categories and the affirmation that being is expressed for all things in the same way had the single objective of maintaining the unity of being. Let us imagine, on the contrary, an ontology where being would be expressed in the same fashion for every difference, but could only express differences. Consequently, things could no longer be completely covered over, as in Duns Scotus, by the great monochrome abstraction of being, and Spinoza's modes would no longer revolve around the unity of substance. Differences would re volve of their own accord, being would be expressed in the same fashion for all these differences, and being would be no longer a unity that guides and distributes them but their repetition as differences. For Deleuze, the noncategorical univocity of being does not directly attach the multiple to unity itself (the universal neutrality of being, or the expressive force of substance); it puts being into play as that which is repetitively expressed as difference. Being is the recurrence of difference, without there being any difference in the form of its expression. Being does not distribute itself into regions; the real is not subordinated to the possible; and the contingent is not opposed to the necessary. Whether the battle of Actium or the death of Antony were necessary or not, the being of both these pure events-to fight, to die-is expressed in the same manner, in the same way that it is ex pressed with respect to the phantasmatic castration that occurred and did not occur. The suppression of categories, the affirmation of the univocity of being, and the repetitive revolution of being around difference-these are the final conditions for the thought of the phan tasm and the event.

We have not quite reached the conclusion. We must return to this "recurrence," but let us pause a moment.


Can it be said that Bouvard and Pecuchet make mistakes?15 Do they commit blunders whenever an opportunity presents itself? If they make mistakes, it is because there are rules that underline their fail ures and under certain definable conditions they might have suc ceeded. Nevertheless, their failure is constant, whatever their action, whatever their knowledge, whether or not they follow the rules, whether the books they consulted were good or bad. Everything be falls their undertaking-errors, of course, but also fires, frost, the fool ishness and perversity of men, a dog's anger. Their efforts were not wrong; they were totally botched. To be wrong is to mistake a cause for another; it is not to foresee accidents; it may derive from a faulty knowledge of substances or from the confusion of necessities with possibilities. We are mistaken if we apply categories carelessly and inopportunely, but it is altogether different to ruin a project com pletely: it is to ignore the framework of categories (and not simply their points of application). If Bouvard and Pecuchet are reasonably certain of precisely those things which are largely improbable, it is not that they are mistaken in their discrimination of the possible but that they confuse all aspects of reality with every form of possibility (this is why the most improbable events conform to the most natural of their expectations). They confuse or, rather, are confused by the necessity of their knowledge and the contingency of the seasons, the existence of things, and the shadows found in books: an accident, for them, possesses the obstinacy of a substance, and those substances seized them by the throat in their experimental accidents. Such is their grand and pathetic stupidity, and it is incomparable to the mea ger foolishness of those who surround them and make mistakes, the others whom they rightfully disdain. Within categories, one makes mistakes; outside of them, beyond or beneath them, one is stupid. Bouvard and Pecuchet are acategorical beings.


These comments allow us to isolate a use of categories that may not be immediately apparent; by creating a space for the operation of . truth and falsity; by situating the free supplement of error, categories silently reject stupidity. In a commanding voice, they instruct us in the ways of knowledge and solemnly alert us to the possibilities of error, while in a whisper they guarantee our intelligence and form the a priori of excluded stupidity. Thus we court danger in wanting to be freed from categories; no sooner do we abandon them than we face the magma of stupidity and risk being surrounded not by a marvelous multiplicity of differences but by equivalences, ambiguities, the "it all comes down to the same thing," a leveling uniformity, and the thermodynamism of every miscarried effort. To think in the form of the categories is to know the truth so that it can be distinguished from the false; to think "acategorically" is to confront a black stupidity and, in a flash, to distinguish oneself from it. Stupidity is contemplated: sight penetrates its domain and becomes fascinated; it carries one gently along and its action is mimed in the abandonment of oneself; we support ourselves on its amorphous fluidity; we await the first leap of an imperceptible difference, and blankly, without fever, we watch to see the glimmer of light return. Error demands rejection - we can erase it; we accept stupidity - we see it, we repeat it, and softly, we call for total immersion.


This is the greatness of Warhol with his canned foods, senseless accidents, and his series of advertising smiles: the oral and nutritional equivalence of those half-open lips, teeth, tomato sauce, that hygiene based on detergents; the equivalence of death in the cavity of an evis­cerated car, at the top of a telephone pole and at the end of a wire, and between the glistening, steel blue arms of the electric chair. "It's the same either way," stupidity says, while sinking into itself and infi nitely extending its nature with the things it says of itself; "Here or there, it's always the same thing; what difference if the colors vary, if they're darker or lighter. It's all so senseless-life, women, death! How stupid this stupidity!" But, in concentrating on this boundless monotony, we find the sudden illumination of multiplicity itself-with nothing at its center, at its highest point, or beyond it-a flickering of light that travels even faster than the eyes and successively lights up the moving labels and the captive snapshots that refer to each other to eternity, without ever saying anything: suddenly, arising from the background of the old inertia of equivalences, the zebra stripe of the event tears through the darkness, and the eternal phantasm informs that soup can, that singular and depthless face.


Intelligence does not respond to stupidity, since it is stupidity al ready vanquished, the categorical art of avoiding error. The scholar is intelligent. It is thought, though, that confronts stupidity, and it is the philosopher who observes it. Their private conversation is a lengthy one, as the philosopher's sight plunges into this candleless skull. It is his death mask, his temptation, perhaps his desire, his catatonic the ater. At the limit, thought would be the intense contemplation from close up-to the point of losing oneself in it-of stupidity; and its other side is formed by lassitude, immobility, excessive fatigue, obstinate muteness, and inertia-or, rather, they form its accompaniment, the daily and thankless exercise which prepares it and which it suddenly dissipates. The philosopher must have sufficiently ill will to play the game of truth and error badly: this perversity, which operates in para doxes, allows him to escape the grasp of categories. But aside from this, he must be sufficiently "ill humored" to persist in the confronta tion with stupidity, to remain motionless to the point of stupefaction in order to approach it successfully and mime it, to let it slowly grow within himself (this is probably what we politely refer to as being absorbed in one's thoughts), and to await, in the always-unpredictable conclusion to this elaborate preparation, the shock of difference. Once paradoxes have upset the table of representation, catatonia operates within the theater of thought.


We can easily see how LSD inverts the relationships of ill humor, stupidity, and thought: it no sooner eliminates the supremacy of cat egories than it tears away the ground of its indifference and disinte grates the gloomy dumbshow of stupidity; and it presents this univocal and acategorical mass not only as variegated, mobile, asym metrical, decentered, spiraloid, and reverberating but causes it to rise, at each instant, as a swarming of phantasm-events. As it slides on this surface at once regular and intensely vibratory, as it is freed from its catatonic chrysalis, thought invariably contemplates this indefinite equivalence transformed into an acute event and a sumptuous, appar eled repetition. Opium produces other effects: thought gathers unique differences into a point, eliminates the background and deprives im mobility of its task of contemplating and soliciting stupidity through its mime. Opium ensures a weightless immobility, the stupor of a butterfly that differs from catatonic rigidity; and, far beneath, it estab lishes a ground that no longer stupidly absorbs all differences but allows them to arise and sparkle as so many minute, distanced, smil ing, and eternal events. Drugs-if we can speak of them generally-have nothing at all to do with truth and falsity; only to fortune-tellers do they reveal a world "more truthful than the real." In fact, they displace the relative positions of stupidity and thought by eliminating the old necessity of a theater of immobility. But perhaps, if it is given to thought to confront stupidity, drugs, which mobilize it, which color, agitate, furrow, and dissipate it, which populate it with differences and substitute for the rare flash a continuous phosphorescence, are the source of a partial thought-perhaps.16 At any rate, in a state de prived of drugs, thought possesses two horns: one is ill will (to baffle categories) and the other ill humor (to point to stupidity and transfix it). We are far from the old sage who invests so much goodwill in his search for the truth that he can contemplate with equanimity the indifferent diversity of changing fortunes and things; far from the irritability of Schopenhauer, who became annoyed with things that did not return to their indifference of their own accord. But we are also distant from the "melancholy" that makes itself indifferent to the world, and whose immobility-alongside books and a globe-indicates the profundity of thought and the diversity of knowledge. Exercising its ill will and ill humor, thought awaits the outcome of this theater of perverse practices: the sudden shift of the kaleidoscope, signs that light up for an instant, the results of the thrown dice, the destiny of another game. Thinking does not provide consolation or happiness. Like a perversion, it languidly drags itself out; it repeats itself with determination upon a stage; at a stroke, it flings itself out side the dice box. At the moment when chance, the theater, and per versions enter into resonance, when chance dictates a resonance among the three, then thought becomes a trance; and it becomes worthwhile to think.

The univocity of being, its singleness of expression, is paradoxically the principal condition that permits difference to escape the domina tion of identity, frees it from the law of the Same as a simple opposi tion within conceptual elements. Being can express itself in the same way, because difference is no longer submitted to the prior reduction of categories; because it is not distributed inside a diversity that can always be perceived; because it is not organized in a conceptual hier archy of species and genus. Being is that which is always said of difference; it is the Recurrence of difference.17


With this term, we can avoid the use of both Becoming and Return, because differences are not the elements-not even the fragmentary, intermingled, or monstrously confused elements-of an extended evo lution that carries them along in its course and occasionally allows their masked or naked reappearance. The synthesis of Becoming might seem somewhat slack, but it nevertheless maintains a unity-not only and not especially that of an infinite container but also the unity of fragments, of passing and recurring moments, and of the floating consciousness that recognizes it Consequently, we are led to mistrust Dionysus and his Bacchantes even in their state of intoxica tion. As for the Return, must it be the perfect circle, the well-oiled millstone that turns on its axis and reintroduces things, forms, and men at their appointed time? Must there be a center and must events occur on its periphery? Even Zarathustra could not tolerate this idea:

"Everything straight lies," murmured the dwarf disdainfully. "All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle."

"Spirit of Gravity," I said angrily, "you do treat this too lightly."

And convalescing, he groans:

"Alas! Man will return eternally, abject man will return eternally."

Perhaps what Zarathustra is proclaiming is not the circle; or per haps the intolerable image of the circle is the last sign of a higher form of thought; perhaps, like the young shepherd, we must break this circular ruse-like Zarathustra himself, who bit off the head of a ser pent and immediately spat it away.

Chronos is the time of becoming and new beginnings. Piece by piece, Chronos swallows the things to which it gives birth and which it causes to be reborn in its own time. This monstrous and lawless becoming-the endless devouring of each instant, the swallowing-up of the totality of life, the scattering of its limbs-is linked to the exacti tude of rebeginning. Becoming leads into this great, interior labyrinth, a labyrinth no different in nature from the monster it contains. But from the depths of this convoluted and inverted architecture, a solid thread allows us to retrace our steps and to rediscover the same light of day. Dionysus with Ariadne: you have become my labyrinth. But Aeon is recurrence itself, the straight line of time, a splitting quicker than thought and narrower than any instant. It causes the same present to arise-on both sides of this indefinitely splitting arrow-as always existing, as indefinitely present, and as indefinite future. It is important to understand that this does not imply a succession of present instances which derive from a continuous flux and that, as a result of their plenitude, allow us to perceive the thickness of the past and the horizon of a future in which they, in turn, become the past. Rather, it is the straight line of the future that repeatedly cuts the smallest width of the present, that indefinitely recuts it starting from itself. We can trace this schism to its limbs, but we will never find the indivisible atom that ultimately serves as the minutely present unity of time (time is always more supple than thought). On both sides of the wound we invariably find that the schism has already happened (and that it had already taken place, and that it had already happened that it had already taken place), and that it will happen again (and in the future, it will happen again): it is less a cut than a constant fibrillation. Time is what repeats itself; and the present-split by this arrow of the future that carries it forward by always causing its swerving on both sides-endlessly recurs. But it recurs as singular difference; and the analogous, the similar, and the identical never return. Difference recurs; and being, expressing itself in the same manner with respect to difference, is never the universal flux of Becoming; nor is the well-centered circle of the identical. Being is a Return freed from the cur vature of the circle; it is Recurrence. Consequently, three deaths of Becoming, the devouring Father-mother in labor; of the circle, by which the gift of life passes to the flowers each springtime; of recurrence-the repetitive fibrillation of the present, the eternal and dangerous fissure fully given in an instant, affirmed in a single stroke once and for all.


By virtue of its splintering and repetition, the present is a throw of the dice. This is not because it forms part of a game in which it insinu ates small contingencies or elements of uncertainty. It is at once the chance within the game and the game itself as chance; in the same stroke, both the dice and rules are thrown, so that chance is not broken into pieces and parceled out but is totally affirmed in a single throw. The present as the recurrence of difference, as repetition giv ing voice to difference, affirms at once the totality of chance. The univocity of being in Duns Scotus led to the immobility of an abstrac tion, in Spinoza it led to the necessity and eternity of substance; but here it leads to the single throw of chance in the fissure of the present. If being always declares itself in the same way, it is not because being is one but because the totality of chance is affirmed in the single dice throw of the present


Can we say that the univocity of being has been formulated on three different occasions in the history of philosophy, by Duns Scotus and Spinoza and finally by Nietzsche-the first to conceive of univoc ity as returning and not as an abstraction or a substance? Perhaps we should say that Nietzsche went as far as the thought of the Eternal Return; more precisely, he pointed to it as an intolerable thought. Intolerable because, as soon as its first signs are perceived, it fixes itself in that image of the circle which carries in itself the fatal threat that all things will return-the spider's reiteration. But this intolerable must be considered because it exists only as an empty sign, a passage way to be crossed, the formless voice of the abyss whose approach is indissociably both happiness and disgust. In relation to the Return, Zarathustra is the Fursprecher, the one who speaks for . . . , in the place of . . . , marking the spot of his absence. Zarathustra is not Nietzsche's image but his sign. The sign (which must be distinguished from the symptom) of rupture: the sign closest to the intolerability of the thought of the return, "Nietzsche" allowed the eternal return to be thought. For close to a century the loftiest enterprise of philosophy has been directed to this task, but who has had the arrogance to say that he has seen it through? Should the Return have resembled the nineteenth century's conception of the end of history, an end that circled menacingly around us like a phantasmagoria at the final days? Should we have ascribed to this empty sign, imposed by Nietzsche as an excess, a series of mythic contents that disarmed and reduced it? Should we have attempted, on the contrary, to refine it so that it could unashamedly assume its place within a particular discourse? Or should this excessive, this always-misplaced and displaced sign have been accentuated; and instead of finding an arbitrary meaning to cor respond to it, instead of constructing an adequate word, should it have been made to enter into resonance with the great signified that today's thought supports as an uncertain and controlled ballast? Should it have allowed recurrence to resound in unison with difference? We must avoid thinking that the return is the form of a content that is difference; rather, from an always-nomadic and anarchic difference to the unavoidably excessive and displaced sign of recurrence, a light ning storm was produced which will bear the name of Deleuze: new thought is possible; thought is again possible.


This thought does not lie in the future, promised by the most dis tant of new beginnings. It is present in Deleuze's texts-springing forth, dancing before us, in our midst; genital thought, intensive thought, affirmative thought, acategorical thought-each of these an unrecognizable face, a mask we have never seen before; differences we had no reason to expect but which nevertheless lead to the return, as masks of their masks, of Plato, Duns Scotus, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, and all other philosophers. This is philosophy not as thought but as theater-a theater of mime with multiple, fugitive, and instantaneous scenes in which blind gestures signal to each other. This is the theater where the laughter of the Sophist bursts out from under the mask of Socrates; where Spinoza's modes conduct a wild dance in a decentered circle while substance revolves about it like a mad planet; where a limping Fichte announces "the fractured I // the dissolved self; where Leibniz, having reached the top of the pyramid, can see through the darkness that celestial music is in fact a Pierrot lunaire. In the sentry box of the Luxembourg Gardens, Duns Scotus places his head through the circular window; he is sporting an impressive mus tache; it belongs to Nietzsche, disguised as Klossowski.



 1. Gilles Deleuze, Difference et repetition (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968) [Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994]; Deleuze, Logique du sens (Paris: Minuit, 1969) [The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, ed. Constantin V. Bourdas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990)].

Difference and Repetition, pp. 126 - 28; Logic of Sense, pp. 253 - 6.

3 Plato, The Sophist, trans. F. M. Cornford, in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, ed. E. Hamilton and H. Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), pp. 957-1017.

4 On the rising of irony and the plunging of humor, see Difference and Repetition, p. 5, and Logic of Sense, pp. 134-41.

Logic of Sense, pp. 266 - 79.

6 Merleau-Ponty, La Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945) [The Phenomenol ogy of Perception, trans. Colin Smith [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962].

7 A character in Klossowski's Les Lots de I'hospitalite (Paris: Gallimard, 1965).

Logic of Sense, pp. 6-11.

9 Fabricius was a Roman general and statesman (d. 250 b.c.); Prince Andrew is a main character in Tolstoi's War and Peace-Ed.

10 Logic of Sense, pp. 12-22.

11 Maurice Blanchot, L'Espace litteraire, cited in Difference and Repetition, p. 112; see also Logic of Sense, pp. 148 -53.

12 Logic of Sense, pp. 148 - 53.

13 On this subject, see Logic of Sense, pp. 185-233. My comments are, at best, an allusion to these splendid analyses.

14 This entire section considers, in a different order from that of the text, some of the themes that intersect within Difference and Repetition. I am, of course, aware that I have shifted accents and, far more important, that I have ignored its inexhaustible riches. I have reconstructed one of several possible models. Therefore, I will not apply specific references.

15 A reference to the protagonists of Gustave Flaubert's novel, Bouvard and Pecuchet, trans. T. W. Earp and G. W. Stonier (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1954).-Ed.

16 "What will people think of us?" [Note added by Gilles Deleuze.]

17 On these themes, see Logic of Sense, pp. 162-68, 177-80, and Difference and Repetition, pp. 35-43.299-304.


*This review essay originally appeared in Critique 282(1970), pp. 885-908. The translation, by Donald F. Brouchard and Sherry Simon, has been slightly amended.