Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Comments on Henry Somers-Hall, Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Comments on Henry Somers-Hall, Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation

Article excerpt

Henry Somers-Hall has written a book1 that is much needed, and in many ways. We need it, for one thing, to understand a striking feature of Deleuze's thought-striking at least to the novice reader (and I claim to be nothing more). While some of Deleuze's many insights are incredibly interesting and illuminating, some of them-including some of the deeper ones-betray a strange arbitrariness. Why transcendental empiricism, for example, and not transcendental idealism or realism? Why must transcendental inquiry explain how experiences are generated rather than conditioned? Wasn't the latter good enough for Kant? Why valorize difference above identity? Why does difference have to be affirmative, and what does that mean? Why calculus and not set theory (Badiou) or arithmetic and geometry (Kant) or modal logic (Kripke)? And so on. Somers-Hall's book operates on the level of such questions, and it is so clear and carefully argued that I learned an incredible amount from it.

And not just about Deleuze, for this book's importance stretches across the philosophical spectrum-or would, if the different approaches that make up philosophy today were not in too much disarray to constitute a "spectrum." It is not that philosophy fails to be a single unified discipline, with everyone working cooperatively in the same paradigm; worse than failure, that would be philosophy's death. It is, rather, that no one has any sense for what anyone else is doing. One index of this is the infamous analytic/continental split. After 60 years, philosophers still don't know what it is about.2 Another is the increasing fragmentation on both sides of the split. Analytical philosophy has divided by topic into so many subspecialties that each has room only for a few dozen people. Except for the work of race and gender theorists, much of the continental side has become a pantheon of incommensurable geniuses: Habermasians, Derrideans, Sartreans, Butlerians and so on follow their leaders without concern for anyone else's leaders.

It will take great efforts to overcome this situation, and Somers-Hall shows why. Just to bring Hegel and Deleuze-only two of the many continental deities- into productive dialogue requires him to awaken, and then exorcise, a panoply of intimidating ghosts. The specters of Leibniz and Newton haunt Deleuze's and Hegel's views of the calculus respectively; Scholastic doctrines of analogy haunt Russell's theory of types; Plato's Third Man argument haunts Aristotle's ontology; Husserlian intentionality haunts Sartre and turns Merleau-Ponty to Klee and Cézanne; Cuvier's disputes with Geoffroy over teleology haunt the Hegel-Deleuze confrontation.

On all this extraordinary variety of matters, and much more, Somers-Hall provides interesting and often novel insights, and by doing so shows that the various components of the philosophical panoply are far too deeply interconnected to be mutually indifferent and, so, however happily, incommensurate. While the book is dense (how could it not be?), it is always clear. The arguments are meticulously stated and, always, driven home. The diverse thinkers Somers-Hall discusses are not aufgehoben or verschmelzt into some single meta-paradigm, but are placed into fruitful dialogue-exactly what, to me, is missing in so much contemporary philosophy.

Transcendentality and Representation

Somers-Hall stages the Deleuze-Hegel confrontation in two rounds. The first concerns the fate of the transcendental realm at the hands of affirmative difference; the other, that of teleology at the hands of evolution. The book begins, however, with the problem of representation: what sort of isomorphism must hold between mind and reality if representations in the former are to give us knowledge of objects in the latter? Kant claims that this question can find its answer only on a "transcendental" level, one that first sets forth the kind of mind that is necessarily presupposed by knowledge and then shows that the conditions of our knowledge of objects are the conditions of the objects themselves (S-H 12). …

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