- Gilles Deleuze’s “Difference and Repetition”: A Critical Introduction and Guide
"Like most works of great philosophical originality," writes James Williams of Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition (hereafter DR), "the book is as difficult as it is important" (2). This is certainly true of DR, in which Deleuze attempts to prioritize the principle of difference over the principle of identity, all within the framework of a critique of the history of Western philosophy. Thankfully, however, Williams's reading of Deleuze is able to capture the originality of DR while liberating those of us who, like this author, are not completely au fait with the intricacies of Deleuzian thought, from some of the quandaries engendered by its inherent complexity.
In writing this book, Williams's intention is to critically analyze the methodology and the arguments contained in Deleuze's book. Williams treats DR—uncontroversially, I think—as the "keystone" of Deleuze's work taken as a whole, and also as a book that is of deep significance to the broader history of philosophy. His introduction spells out the finer details of this broader significance of DR, in addition to offering some admirably concise explanations of the book's main themes and concerns. These, of course, include Deleuze's definition of reality as "both the virtual and the actual" (7), his arguments against the restriction of reality to "actual identifiable things," which turn on the concept of "difference-in-itself," which Williams redefines as "pure difference" (11), and the interaction between the virtual and the actual in terms of repetition (11–12).
Subsequent chapters deal with these and other themes in much greater, and far more critical, detail. Williams's methodology achieves the distinctive, persuasive argument characteristic of DR by means of sensible organization combined with sensitive reading. In each chapter, Williams focuses on a particular section of DR, beginning with its introduction and the preface, in which Deleuze "situates his work in the philosophical context of the turn to difference that gathers pace through the twentieth century" (25), moving through chapters on "Difference," "Repetition," arguments against common sense, the nature of the "Idea," and the nature of "Reality," and ending with a conclusion that reaches, like DR, "Beyond the Self." Throughout the book, Williams takes great care to emphasize what for him, ultimately, count as the dominant principles of Deleuze's philosophy: the linked claims that "we should seek the most complete expression of reality as possible but that this requires creation rather than discovery" (197).
Williams is not slow to acknowledge and to explore the difficulties that Deleuze's thinking must overcome, and this tendency lends both clarity and strength to his reading of DR. As one example, we can take Williams's claim (in chapter 3) that Deleuze's ontology must respond to the challenge posed by the equivocal nature of being, where the "relation between different existents is analogical" (59, 63). As Williams explains, a response to this challenge is incumbent on Deleuze in the light of his reading of Aristotle, which seeks to show how and why Aristotle missed a deeper understanding of the concept of "difference." But how exactly does Williams understand the challenge to Deleuzian ontology? According to him, the equivocal nature of being revives a principle of determination of identity at the expense of the Deleuzian principle of connection; meaning, Williams explains, that "it's what you are, not what you connect to. . . . What you are disconnects you from other things, once and for all" (63). The real problem, as he recognizes, is that this also raises the [End Page 61] specter of Cartesian analysis. In what follows, Williams shows us how and why Deleuze must enable us to stop thinking of existence "primarily as the existence of a well-defined thing"; only then can his case be made as to how we can determine difference without defining it in terms of identity or representation—specifically, how we are to arrive at the philosophically vital idea of difference-in-itself.
Nietzsche is of intrinsic importance to Deleuze, and hence it is...