Notes on Deleuze’s ‘The Fold’ resulting from the work being done as I attend the excellent new reading group hosted by Matthew Dennis at Goldsmiths College, with thanks to him for the opportunity to study the work and for the others at the group for stimulating and interesting conversations.
Matthew Dennis made some introductory remarks when we first met for the reading group and noted that one of the first things encountered in the book is the architectonic metaphor of the room with two levels. Dennis rightly, I think, drew our attention to the way this particular image can stand in conversation with the Platonic cave. We can articulate two philosophical dynamics or views by allowing these images to stand as the organising centres of thought.
Curiously I had tended to glide over the image on this reading of the text. I’ve read ‘The Fold’ numerous times before, only gradually getting to grips with its peculiarities and only recently feeling even slightly familiar in its surroundings. The familiarity of the image had perhaps encouraged its disappearance in my horizon, in that common effect of presentation whereby the common becomes the invisible. It was good to have this foregrounded, therefore and in the course of such foregrounding to have my own familiarities de-familiarised. I had been reading straight past the image – but what then had I been reading?
There is no doubt that ‘The Fold’ (henceforth F) has a reputation as a formidably difficult book of Deleuze. Its 9 chapters, divided into three sections of 3, are short and strikingly uncompromising. Like much of Deleuze’s other works, they contain claims that are often hard to take and even harder to evidence. They present what seem like conclusions to arguments as facts without question and only gradually begin to locate these claims within a narrative argumentative movement. The use of free indirect discourse means that it is often impossible to disentangle exegetical moments from argumentative ones. There is also a disorientation produced by almost a complete absence of the usual terrain of secondary discourse, a situation made even worse for English-speaking Leibniz scholarship since the vague connection that there is to secondary discourse is primarily to a French discourse that is itself distinct from and generally unknown or at least unfamiliar inside English-speaking Leibniz scholarship. For Deleuze scholars, of course, this will all be entirely usual, entirely familiar as the strategy of re-working ‘the dead white male philosophers’ of the tradition, in particular of the ‘minoritarian current’ that Deleuze attempts to articulate in his work. For non-Deleuzian scholars it is disconcerting, to say the least. However, as a kind of Deleuze-scholar I had been reading F with that familiarity within which the strange has slipped away. I had been reading the text without the encounter with the text itself, as it were, and at the centre of this first chapter I had been reading the continuous arrival of the problem of unity.
Take, for example, the following striking and beautiful claim – ‘Life is not only everywhere, but souls are everywhere in matter’ (F:11). The first thing is to disentangle whose claim this is and whilst it is clearly made by Deleuze it is done so in terms of Leibniz. In other words it is interpretative. Specifically it is an interpretation of the ‘great difference that makes Leibniz break away from Malebranche’: not only is there a preformation of bodies, but also a pre-existence of souls in fertile seeds’. Deleuze here references Section 74 of the Monadology. It is worth a brief look at S74:
Scientists have had great difficulties over the origin of forms, entelechies or souls. But now that meticulous research has been carried out on plants, insects, and animals, it has been recognised that naturally organic bodies are never the product of gas or rotting, but always of seeds, which undoubtedly contain some sort of preformation. The conclusion has been drawn that, not only does the organic body already exist before conception, but also a soul in this body — in a word, the animal itself. The only function of conception is to precipitate a major transformation, so that the animal becomes an animal of a different species. Even outside the process of generation, something similar is observed when maggots become flies, or caterpillars become butterflies.
What is immediately striking is the way this argument of Leibniz’s appeals to a kind of ‘scientific authority’. This format also means that when we read this section of the Monadology it seems archaic, almost quaint in its naiveté. Such archaism would not have been foreign to Deleuze and his presentation, in the particularly provocative conjunction of souls and matter, looks increasingly challenging. Clearly nothing in this presentation speaks immediately to any likely support for this position and indeed the very claim itself – the souls are everywhere in matter’ – looks both accurately Leibnizian and inaccurate in-itself by virtue of this mode of presentation. Leibniz is clearly mad, we might claim Deleuze is saying, since he makes such strange claims on the basis of such outdated scientific authority. Indeed, I do think there is this humorous aspect to Deleuze’s presentation of Leibniz but I’ll no doubt come back to that as I go further through the book. Alongside this beautiful if humorous claim that ‘souls are everywhere in matter’, however, there is the problem of unity.
‘Masses and organisms, masses and living beings thus fill the lower level. Why then is another story needed, since sensitive or animal souls are already there, inseparable from organic bodies?’ (F:10). It is with this question that Deleuze begins the penultimate ‘section’ of the first chapter of F, within which we find the claim that ‘souls are everywhere in matter’. The architectonic image of the two-floored house is organised, at this point, around this question of why two floors? Why do we need, for Leibniz, this second floor?
Ironically this second floor is the realm of first philosophy. The last paragraph of the first chapter of F begins ‘Hence the need for a second floor is everywhere affirmed to be strictly metaphysical’ (F:13). The architectonic image is not simply an image of Leibnizian philosophy, though it is that also. In its doubling of floors it is in fact closer to the Platonic cave than we imagine. The ‘higher level’ is that peculiarly inverted ‘ground level’ that philosophical activity so often promotes and which has continuously come under direct attack by other philosophers since it first appeared1.
The core of the way Deleuze seems to approach this problematic, however, is through the question of unity. In particular he drives his account of Leibniz through the problem of the ‘unity of synthesis’ (F:11). Unlike more ‘traditional’ readings in which the problem of concepts is foregrounded in terms of the subject-predicate problematic, Deleuze emphasises the unity problematic, one which has traditionally driven many philosophers – including Leibniz – to the second floor of first philosophy. The ‘monad’, Leibniz argues, ‘constitutes a living substance’, it is the condition for the living substance, albeit insufficient without its ‘own body’ (PNG, Section 4). He goes on to claim that:
not only is there life everywhere – ·the life of organisms·equipped with limbs or organs – but there are infinite levels of life among monads, some of which are more or less dominant over others (ibid)
The monad operates as this principle of union or the ‘unity of synthesis’ as Deleuze puts it. The fold, as an operative concept, will provide the means by which this point expands and contracts the ontology of life, gathering and releasing the variety through the process of unfolding and infolding. The question that now interests me, however, is that there is – on top of the ‘infinite levels of life’ and the dominance (more or less) of some over others, this problem of the second floor, the level of the metaphysical. Is the very problem of unity necessarily productive of a metaphysical second floor? Or is it the way in which the problematic of unity is developed, its vectors of actualisation, that produce the metaphysical levels?