LECTURES BY GILLES DELEUZE
We are completely enclosed in this world of affection-ideas and these affective continuous variations of joy and sadness, so sometimes my power of acting increases, okay, sometimes it diminishes; but whether it increases or diminishes I remain within passion because, in both cases, I do not possess it: I'm still separated from my power of acting. So when my power of acting increases, it means that I am then relatively less separated, and inversely, but I am still formally separated from my power of acting, I do not possess it. In other words, I am not the cause of my own affects, and since I'm not the cause of my own affects, they are produced in me by something else: I am therefore passive, I'm in the world of passion.
But there are notion-ideas and essence-ideas. Already at the level of notion-ideas a kind of escape from this world is going to appear. One is completely smothered, enclosed in a world of absolute impotence, even when my power of acting increases it's on a segment of variation, nothing guarantees me that, at the street corner, I'm not going to receive a great blow to the head and that my power of acting is going to fall again.
You recall that an affection-idea is a mixture, that is to say the idea of an effect of a body on mine. A notion-idea no longer concerns the effect of another body on mine, it's an idea which concerns and which has for its object the agreement or disagreement of the characteristic relations between two bodies. If there is such an idea—we don't know yet if there is one, but we can always define something even if it means concluding that it can't exist—it's what we will call a nominal definition. I would say that the nominal definition of the notion is that it's an idea which, instead of representing the effect of a body on another, that is to say the mixture of two bodies, represents the internal agreement or disagreement of the characteristic relations of the two bodies.
An example: if I knew enough about the characteristic relation of the body named arsenic and the characteristic relation of the human body, I could form a notion of the disagreement of these two relations to the point that the arsenic, under its characteristic relation, destroys the characteristic relation of my body. I am poisoned, I die.
You see that the notion, differing from the idea of affection, instead of being the seizure of the extrinsic relation of one body with another or the effect of one body on another, the notion is raised to the comprehension of the cause, that is if the mixture has such and such effect, this is by virtue of the nature of the relation of the two bodies considered and of the manner in which the relation of one of the bodies is combined with the relation of the other body. There is always a composition of relations. When I am poisoned, the body of arsenic has induced the parts of my body to enter into a relation other than the one which characterizes me. At that moment, the parts of my body enter into a new relation induced by the arsenic, which is perfectly combined with the arsenic; the arsenic is happy since it feeds on me. The arsenic undergoes a joyful passion because, as Spinoza says so well, each body has a soul. Thus the arsenic is joyful, but me, evidently I'm not. It has induced the parts of my body to enter into a relation which is combined with its own, the arsenic's. Me, I'm sad, I'm heading toward death. You see that the notion, if one can reach it, is a formidable thing.
We are not far from an analytical geometry. A notion is not at all abstract, it's quite concrete: this body here, that body there. If I had the characteristic relation of the soul and of the body of that which I say displeases me, in relation to my characteristic relation in myself, I would comprehend everything, I would know by causes instead of knowing only by effects separated from their causes. At that moment I would have an adequate idea. Just as if I understood why someone pleases me. I took as an example digestive relations, but we wouldn't have to change a line for amorous relations. It's not at all that Spinoza conceived love like he conceived digestion, he conceived digestion like love as well. Take a couple ý la Strindberg, this kind of decomposition of relations and then they are recombined in order to begin again. What is this continuous variation of the affectus, and how does a certain disagreement agree with certain people? Why can certain people live only in a certain indefinitely repeated domestic quarrel? They emerge from it as if it had been a bath of cool water for them.
You understand the difference between a notion-idea and an affection-idea. A notion-idea is inevitably adequate since it's a knowledge [connaissance] by causes. Spinoza not only uses the term notion here to qualify this second sort of idea, but he also uses the term common notion. The word is quite ambiguous: does it mean common to all minds? Yes and no, it's very meticulous in Spinoza. In any case, don't ever confuse a common notion and an abstraction. He always defines a common notion like this: it's the idea of something which is common to all bodies or to several bodies—at least two—and which is common to the whole and to the part. Therefore there surely are common notions which are common to all minds, but they're common to all minds only to the extent that they are first the idea of something which is common to all bodies. Therefore these are not at all abstract notions. What is common to all bodies? For example, being in movement or at rest. Movement and rest will be objects of notions said to be common to all bodies. Therefore there are common notions which designate something common to all bodies. There are also common notions which designate something common to two bodies or to two souls, for example, someone I love. Once again the common notion is not abstract, it has nothing to do with species or genera, it's actually the statement [ÈnoncÈ] of what is common to several bodies or to all bodies; or, since there's no single body which is not itself made up of several, one can say that there are common things or common notions in each body. Hence we fall back upon the question: how can one leave this situation which condemned us to mixtures?
Here Spinoza's texts are very complicated. One can only conceive this departure in the following manner: broadly speaking, when I am affected in chance encounters, either I am affected with sadness or with joy. When I am affected with sadness, my power of acting diminishes, which is to say that I am further separated from this power. When I am affected with joy, it increases, which is to say that I am less separated from this power. Good. If you consider yourself as affected with sadness, I believe that everything is wretched, there is no longer an exit for one simple reason: nothing in sadness, which diminishes your power of acting, can induce you from within sadness to form a notion common to something which would be common to the bodies which affect you with sadness and to your own. For one very simple reason, that the body which affects you with sadness only affects you with sadness to the extent that it affects you in a relation which does not agree with your own. Spinoza means something very simple, that sadness makes no one intelligent. In sadness one is wretched. It's for this reason that the powers-that-be [pouvoirs] need subjects to be sad. Agony has never been a cultural game of intelligence or vivacity. As long as you have a sad affect, a body acts on yours, a soul acts on yours in conditions and in a relation which do not agree with yours. At that point, nothing in sadness can induce you to form the common notion, that is to say the idea of a something in common between two bodies and two souls. What he's saying is full of wisdom. This is why thinking of death is the most base thing. He is opposed to the whole philosophical tradition which is a meditation on death. His formula is that philosophy is a meditation on life and not on death. Obviously, because death is always a bad encounter.
Another case. You are affected with joy. Your power of acting is increased, this doesn't mean that you possess it yet, but the fact that you are affected with joy signifies and indicates that the body or soul which affects you thus affects you in a relation which is combined with your own and which is combined with your own, and that goes for the formula of love and the digestive formula. In an affect of joy, therefore, the body which affects you is indicated as combining its relation with your own and not as its relation decomposing your own. At that point, something induces you to form a notion of what is common to the body which affects you and to your own body, to the soul which affects you and to your own soul. In this sense joy makes one intelligent. There we feel that it's a curious thing, because, geometrical method or not, we grant him everything, he can demonstrate it; but there is an obvious appeal to a kind of lived experience. There's an obvious appeal to way of perceiving, and even more, to a way of living. It's necessary to already have such a hatred of sad passions, the list of sad passions in Spinoza is infinite, he goes so far as to say that every idea of reward envelopes a sad passion, every idea of security envelopes a sad passion, every idea of pride, guilt. It's one of the most marvelous moments in the Ethics. The affects of joy are like a springboard, they make us pass through something that we would never have been able to pass if there had only been sadnesses. He solicits us to form the idea of what is common to the affecting body and the affected body. This can fail, but it can also succeed and I become intelligent.
Someone who becomes good in Latin at the same time that he becomes a lover...this is seen in the classroom. What's it connected to? How does someone make progress? One never makes progress on a homogeneous line, something here makes us make progress down there, as if a small joy here had released a trigger. Anew, the necessity of a map: what happened there that unblocked this here? A small joy precipitates us into a world of concrete ideas which sweeps out the sad affects or which is in the process of struggling, all of this makes up part of the continuous variation. But at the same time, this joy propels us somehow beyond the continuous variation, it makes us acquire at least the potentiality of a common notion. It's necessary to conceive this very concretely, these are quite local things. If you succeed in forming a common notion, at whatever point you yourself have a relation with such a person or such an animal, you say: I've finally understood something, I am less stupid than yesterday. The “I've understood” that one says is sometimes the moment in which you formed a common notion. You formed it quite locally, it didn't give you all the common notions. Spinoza doesn't think at all like a rationalist, among the rationalists there is the world of reason and there are the ideas. If you have one, obviously you have all of them: you are reasonable. Spinoza thinks that being reasonable, or being wise, is a problem of becoming, which changes in a singular fashion the contents of the concept of reason. It's necessary to know the encounters which agree with you. No one could ever say that it's good for her/him when something exceeds her/his power of being affected. The most beautiful thing is to live on the edges, at the limit of her/his own power of being affected, on the condition that this be the joyful limit since there is the limit of joy and the limit of sadness; but everything which exceeds your power of being affected is ugly. Relatively ugly: what's good for flies is not inevitably good for you... There is no longer any abstract notion, there isn't any formula which is good for man in general. What counts is what your power is for you. Lawrence said a directly Spinozist thing: an intensity which exceeds your power of being affected is bad (posthumous writings). It's inevitable: a blue that is too intense for my eyes will not make me say it's beautiful, it will perhaps be beautiful for someone else. There's good for all, you tell me...Yes, because the powers of being affected are combined.
To assume that there was a power of being affected which defined the power of being affected of the whole universe is quite possible since all relations are combined to infinity, but not in just any order. My relation doesn't combine with that of arsenic, but what can this do? Obviously it does a lot to me, but at this moment the parts of my body enter again into a new relation which is combined with that of the arsenic. It's necessary to know in what order the relations are combined. But if we knew in what order the relations of the whole universe are combined, we could define a power of being affected of the whole universe, which would be the cosmos, the world insofar as it's a body or a soul. At this moment the whole world is only one single body following the order of relations which are combined. At this moment you have, to speak precisely, a universal power of being affected: God, who is the whole universe insofar as He is its cause, has by nature a universal power of being affected. It's useless to say that he's in the process of using the idea of God in a strange manner.
You undergo a joy, you feel that this joy concerns you, that it concerns something important regarding your principal relations, your characteristic relations. Here then it must serve you as a springboard, you form the notion-idea: in what do the body which affects me and my own body agree? In what do the soul which affects me and my own soul agree, from the point of view of the composition of their relations, and no longer from the point of view of their chance encounters. You do the opposite operation from what is generally done. Generally people tend to summarize their unhappinesses, this is where neurosis or depression begins, when we set out to figure the totals; oh shit, there's this and there's that. Spinoza proposes the opposite: instead of summarizing of our sadnesses, taking a local point of departure on a joy on the condition that we feel that it truly concerns us. On that point one forms the common notion, on that point one tries to win locally, to open up this joy. It's the labor of life. One tries to diminish the respective share of sadnesses in relation to the respective share of a joy, and one attempts the following tremendous coup: one is sufficiently assured of common notions which refer to relations of agreement between such and such body and my own, one will attempt then to apply the same method to sadness, but one cannot do it on the basis of sadness, that is to say one will attempt to form common notions by which one will arrive at a comprehension of the vital manner in which such and such body disagrees and no longer agrees. That becomes, no longer a continuous variation, that becomes a bell curve.
You leave joyful passions, the increase in the power of acting; you make use of them to form common notions of a first type, the notion of what there was in common between the body which affected me with joy and my own body, you open up to a maximum your living common notions and you descend once again toward sadness, this time with common notions that you form in order to comprehend in what way such a body disagrees with your own, such a soul disagrees with your own.
At this moment you can already say that you are within the adequate idea since, in effect, you have passed into the knowledge of causes. You can already say that you are within philosophy. One single thing counts, the way of living. One single thing counts, the meditation on life, and far from being a meditation on death it's rather the operation which consists in making death only finally affect the proportion that is relatively the smallest in me, that is, living it as a bad encounter. It's simply well known that, to the extent that a body is tired, the probabilities of bad encounters increase. It's a common notion, a common notion of disagreement. As long as I'm young, death is truly something which comes from outside, it's truly an extrinsic accident, except in the case of an internal malady. There is no common notion, on the other hand it's true that when a body ages, its power of acting diminishes: I can no longer do what I could still do yesterday; this, this fascinates me in aging, this kind of diminution of the power of acting. What is a clown, vitally speaking? It's precisely the type that does not accept aging, he doesn't know how to age quickly enough. It's not necessary to age too quickly because there's also another way of being a clown: acting the old man. The more one ages the less one wants to have bad encounters, but when one is young one leaps into the risk of the bad encounter. The type which, to the extent that his power of acting diminishes as a function of aging, his power of being affected varies, doesn't do it, continues to act the young man, is fascinating. It's very sad. There's a fascinating passage in one of Fitzgerald's novels (the water-ski episode [in Tender is the Night]), there are ten pages of total beauty on not knowing how to age...You know the spectacles which are not uncomfortable for the spectators themselves.
Knowing how to age is arriving at the moment when the common notions must make you comprehend in what way things and other bodies disagree with your own. Then inevitably it will be necessary to find a new grace which will be that of your age, above all not clinging to youth. It's a kind of wisdom. It's not the good health which makes one say “Live life as you please,” it's no longer the will to cling to life. Spinoza knew admirably well how to die, but he knew very well what he was capable of, he knew how to say “Piss off” [merde] to the other philosophers. Leibniz came to him to steal bits of manuscript in order to say afterward that they were his own. There are very curious stories about this, he was a dangerous man, Leibniz. I end by saying that at this second level, one attains the notion-idea where relations are combined, and once again this is not abstract since I've tried to say that it's an extraordinarily vital enterprise. One has left the passions behind. One has acquired formal possession of the power of acting. The formation of notions, which are not abstract ideas, which are literally rules of life, gives me possession of the power of acting. The common notions are the second kind of knowledge [connaissance]. In order to understand the third it's necessary already to understand the second. Only Spinoza has entered into the third kind. Above the common notions... You've noticed that while the common notions are not abstract, they are collective, they always refer to a multiplicity, but they're no less individual for that. They are the ways in which such and such bodies agree, at the limit they are the ways in which all bodies agree, but at that moment it's the whole world which is an individuality. Thus the common notions are always individual.
Beyond even the compositions of relations, beyond the internal agreements which define the common notions, there are the singular essences. What's the difference? It would be necessary to say that, at the limit, the relation and relations which characterize me express my singular essence, but nevertheless it's not the same thing. Why? Because the relation which characterizes me...what I'm saying here is not entirely in the text, but it's practically there... The common notions or the relations which characterize me still concern the extensive parts of my body. My body is composed of an infinity of parts extended to the infinite, and these parts enter into such and such relations which correspond to my essence but are not confused with my essence, for the relations which characterize me are still rules under which are associated, in movement and at rest, the extended parts of my body. Whereas the singular essence is a degree of power [puissance], that is to say these are my thresholds of intensity.
Between the lowest and the highest, between my birth and my death, these are my intensive thresholds. What Spinoza calls singular essence, it seems to me, is an intensive quality, as if each one of us were defined by a kind of complex of intensities which refers to her/his essence, and also of relations which regulate the extended parts, the extensive parts. So that, when I have knowledge [connaissance] of notions, that is to say of relations of movement and rest which regulate the agreement or disagreement of bodies from the point of view of their extended parts, from the point of view of their extension, I don't yet have full possession of my essence to the extent that it is intensity. And God, what's that? When Spinoza defines God as absolutely infinite power [puissance], he expresses himself well. All the terms that he explicitly employs: degree, which in Latin is gradus, refers to a long tradition in medieval philosophy. Gradus is the intensive quantity, in opposition to or differing from the extensive parts. Thus it would be necessary to conceive the singular essence of each one as this kind of intensity, or limit of intensity. It's singular because, whether it be our community of genera or species, we are all human for example, yet none of us has the same threshold.
to be continued...
The article is taken from:
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