by Steven Craig Hickman
“Bergson invokes metaphysics to show how a memory is not constituted after present perception, but is strictly contemporaneous with it, since at each instant duration divides into two simultaneous tendencies, one of which goes toward the future and the others falls back into the past.”
– Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism
In my continuing reading of Joshua Ramey’s interesting hermetic turn in Deleuzean thought he comes to a point where he takes up Deleuze’s Bergsonism. Here he sees Bergson’s figure of the mystic as a legislator, as “a leader who enables the life of the society to grow into a more vital expression” (KL 2409).1 He goes on to say,
In Bergsonian terms, the mystic’s intense spirituality is in fact a kind of “innate science of matter,” a deep connection between unconscious mind and material depth that enables an extreme degree of freedom, even up to the capacity to re-create the instincts. (Pico della Mirandola’s vision of humanity as free because excessive, displaced, and neither finite nor infinite anticipates this dimension of Bergsonism.) Mysticism is thus, for Bergson-and one might add, retrospectively, for Renaissance hermeticism-not so much an ability to distance oneself from time and circumstance through identification with God, but an intensification of cosmic memory, an involution in the past of a universe become a “machine for the making of gods.”” What is important for Deleuze is that the mystic is not an exception to but rather an ideal type of human life. (Kindle Locations 2410-2414).
The conception of the universe as a ‘machine for the making of the gods’, and of the enfoldings of cosmic memory through intensification and creative expressiveness as active and participatory agency rather than as some hybrid mystical identification through contemplation is key to Deleuze’s involvement in Bergsonism. Yet, I have problems with this last sentence where Ramey sees Deleuze’s use of the mystic figure as an ideal type. Why? Well Deleuze in his Bergsonism was not seeking some ideal type but the pragmatic figuration of a very earthly incarnation or materialization of the Vita Activa principle rather than the Vita Contemplativa of the god fearing Mystic type of the Christian variety. A radical immanence mystic of the earth, rather than an objectalist mystic of some contemplative world of God or Platonic realm of Ideas. The mystic as artist and co-creator of the real through active participation in its material judgments in which Deleuze divines the finite or mortal god in sense-datum is closer to the truth. Deleuze inverts our ideal type of the Mystic, reversing its contemplation of an objective Other, and instead shows the deus in the mud of existence; yet, this is no deus absconditus of Thomas Aquinas, this is the active principle of emergence and of that indefinable elan vital that is the creative movement of the ‘intenstive spatium’ itself.
Is this Vitalism? Doesn’t Deleuze ultimately go beyond vitalism? Isn’t this the point of the event? As Deleuze said in the Logic of Sense wherein the “univocity of sense grasps language in its complete system, as the total expression of a unique expressed – the event” (LS, 248). The elan vital is that unique event, the movement of the finite god in the mud of our earthly lives, a material movement that is at once Univocity of the logic of sense, or as Deleuze so eloquently puts it the “poem without figures” (LS, 248). Isn’t the elan vital non other than the virtual incarnated? The movement of death, the temporal datum of the third sense of time? The replicative difference that inverts the Platonic realism of Ideas and returns them from the eternal realm of contemplation, and to the material world of the senses and actuality as both disjunctive and conjunctive elements within the individuation process is the problematique quest and solution to the non-representational figure that Deleuze sees as the strange stranger (Timothy Morton) we call the Mystic.
This mystic divines out of the intensive spatium, out of the chaos of the noumenal continuum, the Ideas in the material sense-datum of existence. This Platonic inversion brings about what Ray Brassier in Nihil Unbound calls the “empirical correspondence between identity in representation and differenciation in actual experience” that is the “absolute correlation between intensive thinking and noumenal nature in the transcendent exercise of the faculties” (NU, 191). This return our earthy mystic to the ‘groundless ground that is ungrounded’ wherein the three movements of individuation, the phases the three synthesis: 1) the establishment of the conditions for the sub-representation experience of actuality; 2) the establishment of the conditions for the representation of actuality; and, finally, 3) the release of experience from the yoke of representation in the conjunction between the caesura of thinking and the ungrounding of extensity (NH, 191). As Brassier continues: “…the third synthesis brings about a fusion of the psychic and physical beyond the adjudications of representation and the legislatures of explication” (NU, 191). Through a cut or hole, the psyche escapes the temporal movement of that form that is both death and the empty form of time thereby escaping “from the entropic domain of physical death through an experience of dying whereby it becomes a medium for pre-individual singularities in the Idea and impersonal individuations of intensity” (NU, 192). And, as Deleuze tells us:
“Such is the world of the ‘ONE’ or the ‘they’; a world which cannot be assimilated to that of everyday banality, but on the contrary, one wherein encounters and resonances unfold; the ultimate face of Dionysus and the true nature of the depth and groundlessness which overflows representation and brings forth simulacra” (Deleuze 1968: 355: 1994: 277 tm)
Is this not our world as it is without the impositions of habit and the millennia long training in reason that has shaped our minds to filter out the strangeness of the real? Our minds act as defense systems against the truth, rather than revealing its Dionysian splendor.
We know that for Brassier Deleuze ultimately falls under the sign of Vitalism, just another inheritor of Parmenides, one who brings thinking and being together in an idealist gesture of expressiveness: “[f]or Deleuze then, being is nothing apart from its expression in thought; indeed, it simply is this expression” (NU, 203). But is this true? As Brassier would have it Deleuze’s vitalism comes down to one conviction: “time makes a difference that cannot be erased” (NU, 203). Again, is this what Deleuze is saying? To answer that question would lead me far afield ( of interest to this is James Wilson’s work, Gilles Deleuze’s Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide). Instead I’ll hold off on that and return to Josua Ramey and the Hermetic turn…
One might think that Deleuze’s diviner is closer to a Sorceror, or a Heretic such as Giordano Bruno than to a Mystic. As Ramey tells us that for Deleuze “what the mystic represents is not a humanity in which the intellect is repudiated, but one in whom instinct and intelligence have become symbiotically united”. Then he quotes a key passage from Deleuze’s Bergsonism to prove his point:
And what is this creative emotion, if not precisely a cosmic Memory, that actualizes all the levels at the same time, that liberates man from plane or the level that is proper to him, in order to make him a creator adequate to the whole movement of creation? This liberation, this embodiment of cosmic memory in creative emotions, undoubtedly only takes place in privileged souls. It leaps from one soul to another, “every now and then,” crossing closed deserts. But to each member of a closed society, if he opens himself to it, it communicates a kind of reminiscence, an excitement that allows him to follow. (B, 111)
What is interesting is not what he quotes here but what he leaves out of the quote. Just after that last sentence, Deleuze continues with a statement that juxtaposes a closed society (as quoted above) with an open society: “And from soul to soul, it traces the design of an open society, a society of creators, where we pass from one genius to another, through the intermediary of disciples or spectators or hearers” (B, 111). So what is happening here is the movement within a closed society of a new design, a blueprint for the future that is a sort of reminiscence – not of the past, but of futurity; a cosmic memory of what is coming toward us of a utopia of an active society of creators. Now just after these two passages in the next paragraph this all comes home as Deleuze brings this back to his own actual philosophical notions. Just here he tells us that what these disciples or spectators or hearers are passing around is the genesis of an intuition within the intellect:
“It is the genesis of intuition in intelligence. If man accedes to the open creative totality, it is therefore by acting, by creating rather than by contemplating. In philosophy itself there is still way to much contemplation: Everything happens as if intelligence were already imbued with emotion, thus with intuition, but not sufficiently so for creating in conformity to the emotion” (B, 111-112).
In the above what is important is that Deleuze is describing an Order of Things both open and creative, and that one participates in this order not through contemplation of its structure, but through an active participation as an agent whose intelligence imbued with emotive intuition participates in its ongoing creation. Deleuze qualifies all this saying,
"Undoubtedly philosophy can only consider the mystical soul from the outside and from the point of view of its lines of probability. But it is precisely the existence of mysticism that gives a higher probability to this final transmutation into certainty, and also gives, as it were, an envelope or a limit to all the aspects of this method”
What is this method? Deleuze uses the figure of the Mystic as an Artist of creation, one whose intuition penetrates into the extreme limit of the real, “who plays with the whole of creation, who invents an expression of it whose adequacy increases with its dynamism” (B, 112). He goes on to describe this artistic and creative mystic as a servant “of an open and finite God (such are the characteristic of the Élan Vital), the mystical soul actively plays the whole of the universe, and reproduces the opening in the Whole in which there is nothing to see or to contemplate” (B, 112).
This active cut in the temporal order of things that is a repetition and creative reproduction, an artistic act and ongoing creation that is an event, a movement, a happening rather than an artistic object to contemplate is the central insight of Deleuze’s involvement in Bergsonism. At the end of this particular chapter he reminds us that what is significant about the three Bergsonian concepts of Duration, Memory, and the Élan Vital is this:
“…Duration essentially defines a virtual multiplicity (what differs in nature). Memory then appears as the coexistence of all the degrees of difference in this multiplicity, in this virtuality. The Élan Vital, finally, designates the actualization of this virtual according to the lines of differentiation that correspond to the degrees – up to this precise line of man where the Élan Vital gains self-consciousness” (B, 112-113).
What is fascinating in this is all the threads that would follow into such works as Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense in one form or another flow out of this early work of 1966. But the more amazing thing is that Deleuze as Hermetic Philosopher or shall we say mortal god, a man who activates the creative incarnation of a finite god as Élan Vital emerging out of the virtual multiplicity through an active and creative act of intuition and intelligence. What a strange philosophy is this? Yet, this is not your objective God of the theologians, but rather the mortal god of the Lucretian swerve of expression and the ‘intensities’. Halward is wrong when he said that “Life lives and creation creates on a virtual plane that leads forever out of this world” (OW, 164).2 The virtual plane is our world which the philosopher as active artist actively participates in as an ongoing process of actualization that seeks not a way out of our world but a deeper and more dramatic interpenetration in its becomings, its processes. The trajectories of these lines of flight follow the path into this endless maze of the actual where being is movement and process, and creation is the active enfoldment of intuition in intelligence. Viva Vita Activa!
If anything Deleuze is closer to the figure of Magus or Alchemist:
“Even in his dreams he rediscovers or prepares matter. And durations that are inferior to him are still internal to him. Man therefore creates a differentiation that is valid for the Whole, and he alone traces out an open direction that is able to express a whole that is itself open. Whereas the other directions are closed and go round in circles … man is capable of scrambling the planes, of going beyond his own plane as his own condition, in order finally to express naturing Nature." (B, 1o6)
Interpreter or Diviner of the dreams of matter, an artist that expresses the naturing Nature that is neither static nor closed, but is a self-renewing open system of which intuition and intelligence are adequate to the very transcension of the limits of finitude by which we realize freedom. Like a Magus he scrambles the codes that bind our mind, that lock us down into common sense reality, and releases us to move freely beyond the planes of our conditioning and habits in order to finally envision the processes at the heart of things. Is this some mystical process? No. This is a very material process that effectuates a translation into philosophical language of a codified system of derangement of the senses that allows us to know things not as they are, but as they express themselves in and of themselves.
Addendum: Virgilio Rivas has an interesting take on Joshua Ramey’s The Hermetic Deleuze on his blog: The Hermetic Deleuze: Anesthetizing Chaos. He also points out a Morgan Freeman program cited by footnotes2plato asking “Is the Universe Alive?”
http://footnotes2plato.com/2013/01/20/is-the-universe-alive/ which brings together several scientists discussing the levels of reality and how the universe could itself be a living thing in process.
1. Joshua Ramey. The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal. (Kindle Edition 2012).
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