Academic journal article The Comparatist

Habits, Nothing but Habits: Biological Time in Deleuze

Academic journal article The Comparatist

Habits, Nothing but Habits: Biological Time in Deleuze

Article excerpt

Isn't this the answer to the question "what are we?" We are habits, nothing but habits--the habit of saying "I." Perhaps, there is no more striking answer to the problem of the Self.

Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity

This is a paper on habit. (1) Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition treats it as one of three syntheses constitutive of a temporal metaphysic. I suggest that it has yet to receive the attention it deserves in its own right. Habit is, in Jay Lampert's words, "not as well known" as one of Deleuze's conceptions of time; and when it is discussed, it "is generally treated as a false or superficial notion of time that [the second synthesis of] co-existence is meant to replace" (Lampert 12). On such an account, Deleuze's second synthesis of time is intended to supplant the first, and his third synthesis is intended to supplant the second. He is, in other words, delineating the nature of habit only in order move beyond it. The consequence of this kind of reading is, however, a lack in the secondary literature of thoroughgoing analyses of Deleuze's first synthesis. Indeed, as John Protevi recently noted, the major commentators on Difference and Repetition pay no special attention at all to this synthesis and the organic syntheses that underlie it--especially not in their relevance for thinking the organism ("Deleuze, Jonas, and Thompson"). The present paper intervenes here. I'll argue that out of the passive temporal syntheses of habit that constitute the present emerge not only the rhythmic contractions of what Deleuze calls the "larval self," but the polyrhythmic network of what I'll call the "organismic subject" as well. I start with Humean repetition and the difference that marks it, move from there to the claim that every organ draws from repetition such a difference, and conclude by pushing habit to its limit in the organism. My claim that every organism produces its own temporality will find its footing in an extended analysis of organic habit. Far from miring activity in a mechanically repetitive conservatism, habits make the earth fluoresce; and it is only by thinking them fully that we can learn to see in time a fluidly anarchic distribution of temporal fields, that we can learn to see in those fields the subjects that produce them, and in those subjects the habits out of which they themselves emerge.



Repetition, or the transition from an exteriority of atomic instants to their contraction in habit, is the problematic that opens Deleuze's initial discussion of time. One might expect him to have begun with a description of temporal experience, lived continuity. Cue taken from Hume, Deleuze makes the opposite gesture, invoking a repetition of discrete elements or atomic parts (Empiricism and Subjectivity x). "Repetition," for Hume, "changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it" (Difference and Repetition 70). It changes nothing in the object--no one element in a series is the cause of any other. But repetition does change something in the mind--given a succession of double-impressions (AB, AB, AB), I learn to expect the second (B), when confronted with the first (A). I draw a difference: "something new in the mind," as opposed to the object (Difference and Repetition 70). Expectation is the character of this difference; this difference is the advent of repetition. So it's not until a succession of cases--themselves multiple--are related one to the next by means of anticipation or expectation that we can speak of repetition. Repetition is, then, a relentlessly circular affair: I draw a difference from repetition, but it is only in drawing this difference that I speak of repetition.

Hume calls the ground of this circularity the imagination, "defined here as a contractile power: like a sensitive plate, it retains one case when the other appears" (Difference and Repetition 70). …

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