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  • Becoming as Creative Involution?: Contextualizing Deleuze and Guattari’s Biophilosophy
  • Mark Hansen

As several recent critical studies have conclusively demonstrated, biological research and theory form a central reference point in Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy.1 From his early major work culminating in Difference and Repetition of 1968, through his collaboration with Félix Guattari on Capitalism and Schizophrenia (especially, A Thousand Plateaus of 1980), to his final work on Leibniz and geophilosophy (The Fold, and with Guattari again, What is Philosophy?), Deleuze has framed his account of individuation and agency through an evolving critical engagement with evolutionary thinking. Rooted in his early rehabilitation of Henri Bergson’s 1907 Creative Evolution, Deleuze’s heretical “evolutionism” draws widely and irreverently on the advances of recent biology; and yet, for all its gesturing toward biological theory, it remains distinctly philosophical in flavor. Not only was Deleuze’s very interest in biology overdetermined from the beginning by his desire to redress the almost total neglect of Bergson as a philosopher, but (more importantly for my purposes) his ongoing engagement with biological theory (and with Bergsonism itself) has been marshaled to support a metaphysics of the virtual that is, for all its resonances with recent developments in biology, at odds with the distinct priority biological theory (and the Bergson of Creative Evolution) places on processes of actualization.

Laying bare this différend between science and philosophy motivates the first strand of my argument in this paper: an attempt to unpack and clarify the genealogy of Deleuze’s changing, though lifelong, engagement with Bergson. Essentially, after starting off from a point of seemingly perfect convergence between philosophy and biology—Bergson’s notion of the élan vital—Deleuze drives an ever-widening wedge between the biological notions he appropriates from neo-evolutionism and what he increasingly comes to view as a model of creative evolution too fundamentally bound up with both humanism and a residual representationalism. As I shall argue, what compels Deleuze to distance himself from creative evolution and from a certain Bergson is his (paradoxically very Bergsonian) philosophical aim of furnishing a metaphysics for contemporary science, that is, a metaphysics of the virtual.2 Against such a metaphysics, I shall insist, against such metaphysics and with the support of contemporary biologists, that a certain priority be granted processes of actualization.

Still, despite Deleuze’s distancing from creative evolution, something substantial persists across his changing relation to both Bergson and biology: namely, his commitment to a notion of internal difference, or difference in itself. This commitment motivates Deleuze’s initial adherence to Bergson’s creative evolutionism no less than his later “break” with Bergson over the status of intensity as well as the correlated model of creative involution he develops together with Guattari. The initial impetus driving Deleuze’s effort to rehabilitate the fraught notion of the élan vital and with it, the very career of Bergson as philosopher, was nothing other than the notion of internal difference. As he reconstructs it in his 1956 essay, “Bergson’s Conception of Difference,” and then again in his 1966 Bergsonism, the élan vital introduces an explosive force internal to the process of evolution (internal difference) that is capable of accounting for the positive power of time as a source of creative invention. With the progress of his own philosophical career, Deleuze soon found reason to temper his initial adherence to Bergsonism—and specifically, to Bergson’s derivation of internal difference from qualitative difference—without in any way abandoning his own commitment to internal difference. As early as Difference and Repetition (1968), Deleuze traces qualitative difference or difference in kind (together with quantitative difference or difference in degree) to a fluid continuum of intensity, thereby eschewing Bergson’s argument that qualitative difference is itself one of two tendencies being differentiated and thus, a tendency internal to difference that, as Deleuze puts it, “show[s] the way in which a thing varies qualitatively in time” (Bergsonism 32).

By attending to what is at stake in this shift concerning the source of internal difference, I shall correlate Deleuze’s break with Bergson over the role of intensity with the generalized philosophical Aufhebung of biology that underwrites his introduction (in Difference and...

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