We often think of culture and cultural value as socially constructed. We no longer believe in timeless values or essences. We value Shakespeare because of the beliefs of our culture and institutions, but we can easily imagine societies where Hamlet either makes no sense or does not seem particularly worthy. It seems futile to imagine some ‘essence’ of art; art is just what universities or critics canonise or consecrate. It seems equally futile to imagine any other sorts of essences. We live our world through meanings and representations. What we understand by the words ‘femininity’ or ‘good’ would be quite different in another epoch or culture. Today, we tend to think that systems of signs or representation produce our world as meaningful or socially coded—such that it makes no sense to inquire how such codes or systems of representation emerged.
It was against this background of representation that Deleuze launched his philosophy of difference. (Deleuze wrote most of his work following the movement in French thought known as structuralism, which we will look at in more detail later on. The main point to note here is that Deleuze challenged the dominant belief that we know and experience our world through imposed structures of representation.) To begin with, Deleuze insisted that our meanings or representations were not just arbitrary or . . .