Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Difference and Creativity: Virtuality and Actualization in Deleuze's Reading of Bergson

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Difference and Creativity: Virtuality and Actualization in Deleuze's Reading of Bergson

Article excerpt

The concept of the virtual holds a central position in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Brian Massumi states that it "is probably the most pivotal . . . concept in Deleuze and Guattari's philosophical vocabulary" (Massumi, 34). Daniel W. Smith writes, "Deleuze's entire philosophy is concerned with the description of this virtual domain" (Smith, 172). The concept of the virtual can be found in several of Deleuze's writings on the history of philosophy. There is the oscillation between virtual and actual that he sees in Leibniz (DR, 212-13 and LB, 104-05), and the related concept ofpotentia that he finds in the work of Spinoza (SPP, 97-104; Massumi 156n53).1 But Deleuze adopts this contrast between the virtual and the possible most directly from the work of Henri Bergson.2 This essay will analyze Deleuze's reading of the virtual/actual distinction in Bergson's work and how the aspects of this distinction can be found in Deleuze's own concept of "a life."

The importance of the virtual has been noted by a number of commentators. Alain Badiou concentrates on the ontological character of the virtual in his The Clamor of Being but does not discuss the Bergsonian inspiration for this concept (Badiou, 43-53). In his Vocabulaire de Deleuze, François Zourabichvili discusses the transcendental dimension of the virtual without explaining the process of actualization or its origin in Bergson's work (Zourabichvili, 89-91). Constantin V. Boundas more thoroughly addresses the virtuality-possibility distinction and how these concepts relate to Deleuze's transcendental empiricism in his essay on Deleuze and Bergson, but he does not explicitly show how the process of actualization of memory and élan vital in Deleuze's reading of Bergson is parallel, in a certain fashion, with actualization in Deleuze's own concept of "a life" and the constitution of subjectivity as I will do here.

There will therefore be two main parts to this essay. The first will be an analysis of Deleuze's reading of virtuality and actualization as it is described in Bergsonism. This part will include two sections that correspond to the two models of virtuality in Bergson's work: Bergson's theory of memory that is presented in Matter and Memory and the élan vital that Bergson describes in Creative Evolution. We will see that actualization has two aspects that establish it as different from the realization of possibilities. These two aspects are differentiation and creativity. The second part of the essay will show how these two aspects can be seen in Deleuze's conception of "a life" as it is described primarily in "Immanence: a Life." This demonstrates the influence of Deleuze's reading of Bergson on his own philosophy. But before we can examine how Deleuze interprets Bergson's theories of memory and élan vital and how aspects of these interpretations later get used by Deleuze, we need to clarify what the virtual and the actual are and how this distinction is different than the possible and the real.

Deleuze is fond of citing Proust's formula when describing the virtual. It states that the virtual is "real without being actual, ideal without being abstract" (B, 96 and DR, 208).3 The idea that Deleuze is trying to get across with this formula is that the virtual is not opposed to the real but to the actual. The possible, on the other hand, is opposed to the real. Thus the possible has no reality. The virtual, on the other hand, is not actual but has reality. Therefore, if our terminology is to be consistent, we must say that virtualities are actualized and possibilities are realized (B, 96).

Thus far, the virtuality-actuality distinction seems to be merely a matter of word choice. But that is not the case because actualization and realization are two very different processes. Deleuze states that the process of realization is subject to two rules: the rule of resemblance and the rule of limitation. The rule of resemblance states, "the real is supposed to be the image of the possible that it realizes" (B, 97). …

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