Difference and Repetition
Difference and Repetition is a book by philosopher Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze , was a French philosopher who, from the early 1960s until his death, wrote influentially on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular works were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus , both co-written with Félix...

, originally published in 1968 in France under the title Différence et Répétition. It was translated into English by Paul Patton
Paul R. Patton
Paul Patton is a Professor of philosophy in the School of History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where he has been since 2002....

 in 1994.

Difference and Repetition was Deleuze's principal thesis for the Doctorat D'Etat alongside his secondary, historical thesis, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza.

The work assays a critique of representation. In the book, Deleuze develops concepts of difference in itself and repetition for itself, that is, concepts of difference and repetition that are logically and metaphysically prior to any concept of identity. Some commentators suggest that the book is Deleuze's attempt at a rewriting of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason from the point of view of genesis.

Structure of the Work

Difference and Repetition contains five chapters, along with a preface, introduction, and conclusion.


Deleuze uses the preface to relate the work to other texts. He describes his philosophical motivation as "a generalized anti-Hegelianism" (ix) and notes that the forces of difference and repetition can serve as conceptual substitutes for identity and negation in Hegel. The importance of this terminological change is that difference and repetition are both positive forces with unpredictable effects. Deleuze suggests that, unlike Hegel, he creates concepts out of a joyful and creative logic that resists the dualism of dialectic: "I make, remake and unmake my concepts along a moving horizon, from an always decentered centre, from an always displaced periphery which repeats and differenciates them" (xxi).

In the preface to the English edition, Deleuze highlights the third chapter (The Image of Thought) as foreshadowing his later work with Felix Guattari
Félix Guattari
Pierre-Félix Guattari was a French militant, an institutional psychotherapist, philosopher, and semiotician; he founded both schizoanalysis and ecosophy...


He also suggests not only that "conclusions should be read at the outset," but also that "This is true of present book, the conclusion of which could make reading the rest unnecessary" (ix).

Introduction: Repetition and Difference

Deleuze uses the introduction to clarify the term "repetition." Deleuze's repetition can be understood by contrasting it to generality. Both words describe events that have some underlying connections.

Generality refers to events that are connected through cycles, equalities, and laws. Most phenomena that can be directly described by science are generalities. Seemingly isolated events will occur in the same way over and over again because they are governed by the same laws. Water will flow downhill and sunlight will create warmth because of principles that apply broadly. In the human realm, behavior that accords with norms and laws counts as generality for similar reasons. Science deals mostly with generalities because it seeks to predict reality using reduction and equivalence.

Repetition, for Deleuze, can only describe a unique series of things or events. The Borges story in which Pierre Menard reproduces the exact text of Don Quixote is a quintessential repetition: the repetition of Cervantes
-People:*Alfonso J. Cervantes , mayor of St. Louis, Missouri*Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, 16th-century man of letters*Ignacio Cervantes, Cuban composer*Jorge Cervantes, a world-renowned expert on indoor, outdoor, and greenhouse cannabis cultivation...

 in Menard takes on a magical quality by virtue of its translation into a different time and place. Art is often a source of repetition because no artistic use of an element is ever truly equivalent to other uses. (Pop Art
Pop art
Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States. Pop art challenged tradition by asserting that an artist's use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art...

 pushes this quality to a certain limit by bringing production near the level of capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...


For humans, repetition is inherently transgressive. As in Coldness and Cruelty, Deleuze identifies humor and irony as lines of escape from the generalities of society. Humor and irony
Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions...

 are in league with repetition because they create distance from laws and norms even while re-enacting them.

Deleuze describes repetition as a shared value of an otherwise rather disparate trio: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Péguy. He also connects the idea to Freud's death drive.

He goes on to define repetition as "difference without a concept" (13). Repetition is thus reliant on difference more deeply than it is opposed. Further, profound repetition will be characterized by profound difference.

I. Difference in Itself

Deleuze paints a picture of philosophical history in which difference has long been subordinated to four pillars of reason: identity, opposition, analogy, and resemblance. He argues that difference has been treated as a secondary characteristic which emerges when one compares pre-existing things; these things can then be said to have differences. This network of direct relations between identities roughly overlays a much more subtle and involuted network of real differences: gradients, intensities, overlaps, and so forth (50).

The chapter contains a discussion of how various philosophers have treated the emergence of difference within Being. This section uses Duns Scotus
Duns Scotus
Blessed John Duns Scotus, O.F.M. was one of the more important theologians and philosophers of the High Middle Ages. He was nicknamed Doctor Subtilis for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought....

, Spinoza, and others to make the case that "there has only ever been one ontological
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

 proposition: Being is univocal. ... A single voice raises the clamor of being" (35). One then tries to understand the nature of differences that arise within Being. Deleuze describes how Hegel took contradiction—pure opposition—to be the principle underlying all difference and consequently to be the explanatory principle of all the world's texture. He accuses this conception of having a theological and metaphysical slant.

Deleuze proposes (citing Leibniz) that difference is better understood through the use of dx, the differential. A derivative
In calculus, a branch of mathematics, the derivative is a measure of how a function changes as its input changes. Loosely speaking, a derivative can be thought of as how much one quantity is changing in response to changes in some other quantity; for example, the derivative of the position of a...

, dy/dx, determines the structure of a curve while nonetheless existing just outside the curve itself; that is, by describing a virtual tangent
In geometry, the tangent line to a plane curve at a given point is the straight line that "just touches" the curve at that point. More precisely, a straight line is said to be a tangent of a curve at a point on the curve if the line passes through the point on the curve and has slope where f...

 (46). Deleuze argues that difference should fundamentally be the object of affirmation and not negation. As per Nietzsche, negation becomes secondary and epiphenomenal in relation to this primary force.

II. Repetition for Itself

Having defined difference more explicitly, Deleuze can now elaborate his conception of repetition and difference without concept. The chapter proceeds by describing three different levels of time
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....

 within which repetition occurs. Deleuze takes as axiomatic the notion that there is no time but the present, which contains past and future. These layers describe different ways in which past and future can be inscribed in a present. As this inscription grows more complicated, the status of the present itself becomes more abstract.

1. Passive synthesis

Basic processes of the universe have a momentum that they carry into each present moment. A 'contraction' of reality refers to the collection of a diffuse ongoing force into the present. Prior thought and behavior, all substance performs contraction. "We are made of contracted water, earth, light, and air...Every organism, in its receptive and perceptual elements, but also in its viscera, is a sum of contractions, of retentions and expectations" (73).

Passive synthesis is exemplified by habit. Habit incarnates the past (and gestures to the future) in the present by transforming the weight of experience into an urgency. Habit creates a multitude of "larval selves," each of which functions like a small ego with desires and satisfactions. In Freudian discourse, this is the domain of bound excitations associated with the pleasure principle.

Deleuze cites Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 and Bergson as relevant to his understanding of the passive synthesis.

2. Active synthesis

The second level of time is organized by the active force of memory
In psychology, memory is an organism's ability to store, retain, and recall information and experiences. Traditional studies of memory began in the fields of philosophy, including techniques of artificially enhancing memory....

, which introduces discontinuity into the passage of time by sustaining relationships between more distant events. A discussion of destiny
Destiny or fate refers to a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual...

 makes clear how memory transforms time and enacts a more profound form of repetition:
Destiny never consists in step-by-step deterministic relations between presents which succeed one another according to the order of a represented time. Rather, it implies between successive presents non-localisable connections, actions at a distance, systems of replay, resonance and echoes, objective chances, signs, signals, and roles which transcend spatial locations and temporal successions. (83)

Relative to the passive synthesis of habit, memory is virtual and vertical. It deals with events in their depth and structure rather than in their contiguity in time. Where passive syntheses created a field of 'me's,' active synthesis is performed by 'I.' In the Freudian register, this synthesis describes the displaced energy of Eros, which becomes a searching and problematizing force rather than a simple stimulus to gratification.

Proust and Lacan
Lacan is surname of:* Jacques Lacan , French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist** The Seminars of Jacques Lacan** From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power, a book on political philosophy by Saul Newman** Lacan at the Scene* Judith Miller, née Lacan...

 are key authors for this layer.

3. Empty time

The third layer of time still exists in the present, but it does so in a way that breaks free from the simple repetition of time. This level refers to an ultimate event so powerful that it becomes omnipresent. It is a great symbolic event, like the murder to be committed by Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

 or Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

. Upon rising to this level, an actor effaces herself as such and joins the abstract realm of eternal return. The me and the I give way to "the man without name, without family, without qualities, without self or I...the already-Overman whose scattered members gravitate around the sublime image" (90).

Empty time is associated with Thanatos, a desexualized energy that runs through all matter and supersedes the particularity of an individual psychic system. Deleuze is careful to point out that there is no reason for Thanatos to produce a specifically destructive impulse or 'death instinct' in the subject; he conceives of Thanatos as simply indifferent.

Nietzsche, Borges and Joyce
The name Joyce is used for females and rarely used by males. It derived from the Old French Masculine name Josse which derived from the Latin name Iudocus the Latinized form of the Breton name Judoc meaning "lord". The name became rare after the 14th century but later revived as a female name which...

are Deleuze's authors for the third time.

III. The Image of Thought

This chapter takes aim at an "image of thought" that permeates both popular and philosophical discourse. According to this image, thinking naturally gravitates towards truth. Thought is divided easily into categories of truth and error. The model for thought comes from the educational institution, in which a master sets a problem and the pupil produces a solution which is either true or false. This image of the subject supposes that there are different faculties, each of which ideally grasps the particular domain of reality to which it is most suited.

In philosophy, this conception results in discourses predicated on the argument that "Everybody knows..." the truth of some basic idea. Descartes, for example, appeals to the idea that everyone can at least think and therefore exists. Deleuze points out that philosophy of this type attempts to eliminate all objective presuppositions while maintaining subjective ones.

Deleuze maintains, with Artaud, that real thinking is one of the most difficult challenges there is. Thinking requires a confrontation with stupidity
Stupidity is a lack of intelligence, understanding, reason, wit, or sense. It may be innate, assumed, or reactive - 'being "stupid with grief" as a defence against trauma', a state marked with 'grief and despair...making even simple daily tasks a hardship'....

, the state of being formlessly human without engaging any real problems. One discovers that the real path to truth is through the production of sense: the creation of a texture for thought that relates it to its object. Sense is the membrane that relates thought to its other.

Accordingly, learning is not the memorization of facts but the coordination of thought with a reality. "As a result, 'learning' always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind" (165).

Deleuze's alternate image of thought is based on difference, which creates a dynamism that traverses individual faculties and conceptions. This thought is fundamentally energetic and asignifying: if it produces propositions, these are wholly secondary to its development.

At the end of the chapter, Deleuze sums up the image of thought he critiques with eight attributes:
the postulate of the principle, or the Cogitatio natural universalis (good will of the thinker and good nature of thought); (2) the postulate of the ideal, or common sense (common sense as the concordia facultatum and good sense as the distribution which guarantees this concord); (3) the postulate of the model, or of recognition (recognition inviting all the faculties to exercise themselves upon an object supposedly the same, and the consequent possibility of error in the distribution when one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty); (4) the postulate of the element or of representation (when difference is subordinated to the complimentary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analagous and the Opposed; (5) the postulate of the negative, or of error (in which error expresses everything which can go wrong in thought, but only as the product of external mechanisms); (6) the postulate of logical function, or the proposition (designation is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than the neutralized double or the infinite doubling of the proposition); (7) the postulate of modality, or solutions (problems being materially traced from propositions or indeed, formally defined by the possibility of their being solved); (8) the postulate of the end, or result, the postulate of knowledge (the subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture to method. (167)

IV. Ideational Synthesis of Difference

This chapter expands on the argument that difference underlies thought by proposing a conception of Ideas based on difference.

Deleuze returns to his substitution of the differential (dx) for negation (-x), arguing that Ideas can be conceived as "a system of differential relations between reciprocally determined genetic elements" (173-4). Ideas are multiplicities—that is, they are neither many nor one, but a form of organization between abstract elements that can be actualized in different domains. One example is the organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

. An organism actualizes itself according to a schema that can be varied but nevertheless defines relations between its components. Organismic complexity is achieved by progressive breaks in symmetry that begin with small distinctions in an embryonic mass.

The term 'virtual
Virtual (philosophy)
Gilles Deleuze, uses the term virtual to refer to an aspect of reality that is ideal, but which is nonetheless real. An example of this would be the meaning, or sense, of a proposition, which is not a material aspect of that proposition but is nonetheless an attribute of that proposition...

' is used to describe this type of (nevertheless real) entity. The notion of virtuality emphasizes the way in which the set of relations themselves are prior to instances of these relations, called actualizations.

V. Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible

This chapter continues the discussion of the play of difference and explains how sense can arise from it. To do so, it engages with a handful of scientific and mathematical concepts that relate to difference.

Intensive & Extensive

One major theme is the intensive
Intensive and extensive properties
In the physical sciences, an intensive property , is a physical property of a system that does not depend on the system size or the amount of material in the system: it is scale invariant.By contrast, an extensive property In the physical sciences, an intensive property (also called a bulk...

, which opposes (and for Deleuze, precedes) the extensive. Extensity refers to the actualized dimensions of a phenomenon: its height, its specific components. In science, an object's intensive properties are those, like density and specific heat, that do not change with quantity. Correspondingly, while extensive properties can be subject to division (the object can be cut in half), intensive qualities cannot be simply reduced or divided without transforming their bearer entirely.

There is an intensive space, called spatium, which is virtual and whose implications govern the eventual production of intensive space. This spatium is the cosmic analogue of the Idea; the mechanism of abstract relations becoming actualized is the same.

Intensity governs the basic processes through which differences interact and shape the world. "It is intensity which is immediately expressed in the basic spatio-temporal dynamisms and determines an 'indistinct' differential relation in the Idea to incarnate itself in a distinct quality and a distinguished extensity" (245).

Modes of Thought

Deleuze attacks good sense and common sense. Good sense treats the universe statistically and attempts to optimize it to produce the best outcome. Good sense may be rationalist, but it does not affirm fate or difference; it has an interest in reducing rather than amplifying the power of difference. It takes the economic view in which value is an average of expected values and present and future can be interchanged on the basis of a specific discount rate
Discount rate
The discount rate can mean*an interest rate a central bank charges depository institutions that borrow reserves from it, for example for the use of the Federal Reserve's discount window....


Common sense is the ability to recognize and react to categories of objects. Common sense complements good sense and allows it to function; 'recognition' of the object enables 'prediction' and the cancelation of danger (along with other possibilities of difference).

To both common sense and good sense, Deleuze opposes paradox
Similar to Circular reasoning, A paradox is a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition...

. Paradox serves as the stimulus to real thought and to philosophy because it forces thought to confront its limits. (This idea receives more explanation in The Logic of Sense
The Logic of Sense
The Logic of Sense , a book released by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in 1969, is an exploration of meaning and meaninglessness, or "commonsense" and "nonsense"...



The coalescence of 'individuals' out of the cosmic flow of matter is a slow and incomplete process. "Individuation is mobile, strangely supple, fortuitous and endowed with fringes and margins; all because the intensities which contribute to it communicate with each other, envelop other intensities, and are in turn enveloped" (254). That is, even after individuation takes place, the world does not become passive background or stage on which newly autonomous actors relate to each other. Individuals remain bound to the underlying forces that constitute them all, and these forces can interact and develop without individual approval.

The embryo
An embryo is a multicellular diploid eukaryote in its earliest stage of development, from the time of first cell division until birth, hatching, or germination...

 enacts the drama of individuation. In the process, it subjects itself to dynamics that would tear apart a fully individuated organism. The power of individuation lies not in the development of a final I or self, but in the ability of the deeper dynamics to incarnate themselves in a being that gains additional powers by virtue of its materiality. Individuation makes possible a drama described as a confrontation with the face of the Other. Distinct from the singular form of Levinasian ethics, this scene is important for Deleuze because it represents the possibility and openness associated with an individuated unknown.

Social and Political Commentary

Difference and Repetition does on rare occasion depart from the realm of pure philosophy to make explicitly sociopolitical statements. These have a generally leftist bent. They include:

"We claim that there are two ways to appeal to 'necessary destructions': that of the poet, who speaks in the name of a creative power, capable of overturning all orders and representations in order to affirm Difference in the state of permanent revolution which characterizes eternal return; and that of the politician, who is above all concerned to deny that which 'differs,' so as to conserve or prolong an established historical order" (53).

"Real revolutions have the atmosphere of fétes. Contradiction is not the weapon of the proletariat but, rather, the manner in which the bourgeoisie defends and preserves itself, the shadow behind which it maintains its claim to decide what the problems are" (268).

"The more our daily life appears standardised, stereotyped, and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate—namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death" (293).

External links

  • Lecture notes by John Protevi including notes on each Chapter and an Outline of the book.
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