- Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence
Levi R. Bryant’s object is to provide an analysis of Deleuze’s “transcendental empiricism,” concentrating primarily on its development in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense. Of the two elements of Deleuze’s oxymoronic rubric, the Kantian transcendental and the Humean empirical, Bryant finds the latter especially to have received too much emphasis in previous studies. For Deleuze, the empirical given, the raw data of sense experience, is not the ground of explanation but that which must be explained. The key to understanding the given is difference. As Deleuze says in Difference and Repetition, “Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given, that by which the given is given as diverse” (qtd. in Bryant 2008, 146). The error of accepting the given as passively received data is one that “metaphysical philosophies, transcendental philosophies, and empiricist philosophies all fall prey to” (19), transcendental philosophies in particular by deriving the transcendental conditions of experience from lived experience itself. If Deleuze is an empiricist, then, he is so in a very special sense. As for Kant, Bryant argues that insufficient attention has been paid to Deleuze’s commitment to critical philosophy. Deleuze’s goal is to complete Kant’s critical philosophy, and not simply by submitting values to critique (as Deleuze claimed Nietzsche had done). As Bryant ably shows, Deleuze’s crucial move is to expand on Kant’s presentation of the cogito, showing that the Kantian subject is actually split and that the pure form of time, which emerges in that split, discloses a transcendental field that is grounded neither in empirical objects nor a self-present subject.
In Bryant’s view, Deleuze’s transcendental field is one of virtual problems, which are “morphological, topological or genetic essences” (43). Each problem is “a style, diagram of becoming” (66), “a way of being,” “an identity of difference, or an identity produced through difference. It is not a type or kind, but rather a rule of production, a genetic factor. It is an identity that maintains itself through topological variations. It is for this reason that we speak of morphological essences or diagrams of becoming” (68). The field of virtual problems is a collection of structures directing the genesis of actual entities. In this virtual [End Page 327] domain, we may trace “ideal events as durational tendency-subjects presiding over the genesis of subjects and objects” (210), each ideal event being less a geometrical point than “a sort of thread, flow, distension or ‘smear’” (217). In perhaps the most difficult portion of his analysis, Bryant aligns the virtual with the pure past of an ontological memory, which Deleuze presents in his exposition of the second passive synthesis of time, whereas the actual Bryant associates with the present of habitus and the first passive synthesis of time.
Bryant opens his study by considering in detail the limits of empiricism and the failings of empirical and transcendental philosophies. Along the way, he offers an illuminating, if dense, reading of Deleuze’s tricky remarks on manifestation, signification, and denotation in The Logic of Sense. He then considers the means whereby one may move beyond empiricism, which Deleuze finds in Bergson’s method of intuition, albeit a method embraced by Deleuze only with a difference. In chapter 3, Bryant discusses the “encounter,” the violence of something that escapes comprehension and forces one to think. The encounter, Bryant argues, may be seen as an element of a Deleuzian “phenomenology,” though a phenomenology that is not subject-oriented. Here, in the violent encounter with the incomprehensible, which emerges within sense experience, we find the empirical dimension of Deleuze’s philosophy. In chapters 4, 5, and 6, Bryant traces the three moments of the encounter, each of which is associated with something that pushes a faculty to its limit: the sentiendum, or that which can only be sensed and which provides us with signs of the transcendental; the memorandum, or...